By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
PASADENA — Finally, a sense of urgency.
The overwhelming pursuit came 45 seconds into the game when the Pasadena High School boys basketball team recorded three steals and three baskets that led to an eventual 10-0 run over Bell, and it was the Bulldogs’ staple defense that limited the Eagles to just six field goals the entire first half.
Blake Hamilton and Brandon Jolley muscled their way to the basket, Perris Hicks and John Haywood applied suffocating pressure and Ajon Efferson waltzed his way around the court, leading Pasadena to a dominating 77-44 victory in the second round of the CIF State Division III playoffs Saturday night.
Pasadena (26-7), the No. 2 seed in the State tournament, will host St. John Bosco on Tuesday at Monrovia High. The game was moved there because it has a higher seating capacity (2,400 seats) to Pasadena’s (1,150). A win next week would send the Bulldogs to next weekend’s Southern California championship game at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
That scenario didn’t seem all that plausible the way the Bulldogs had been playing, but with a monumental start against Bell (20-6) on Saturday night the bigger question was whether Pasadena could sustain that kind of intensity in the second half.
Pasadena responded with resounding authority, leading to Chris Hanayan, DeAngelo Stowers, Avo Yetenekyan and Jeffrey McClendon to replace the starters with 3:52 left in the third quarter. Joey Toyama, James Kirkland and Nick Brown also made their way into the game to give the hobbling starters some much needed rest, which they earned from the moment the whistle was blown.
Pasadena throughout the season had shown glimpses of a veteran team that can play to its potential. But there also have been times — plenty, actually — when the Bulldogs played uninspired basketball without capitalizing on numerous mismatches.
Against Bell, it wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s not as if the Eagles hadn’t earned their way here.
Bell entered the State tournament as the L.A. City Section Division 3 champion with an impressive resume that included a key win over Renaissance Academy, the CIF-SS Division 6 champion, and tough games against powerhouse St. John Bosco, Lakewood and El Camino. Bell recorded a 54-50 win over Mt. Whitney in the State tournament opener, another quality win.
But there was no matching Pasadena’s intensity on Saturday night.
Haywood recorded the first steal almost instantly for the quick layup. Efferson and Hamilton followed suit with each recording a steal and layup to make it 6-0, forcing Bell coach Alexander Del Hierro to burn a timeout with 7:15 still to play in the first quarter as the capacity crowd rose to its feet in appreciation.
“I’m not a coach that likes to call timeouts early but I had to because we were overwhelmed in the begining,” said Del Hierro, who led Bell to an L.A. City Section Division 3 title. “This is the best team we’ve seen all year. We got a deer in a headlights type of shock by their defense, and their intensity we just couldn’t handle.”
On the next play, Hicks recorded another steal on Bell’s fourth possession. It didn’t lead to a basket, but the tone was set.
“I thought we got off to one of the best starts,” Pasadena coach Tim Tucker said. “Those first six guys were just incredible. I wanted the game to be as soon as possible.”
And it was.
Pasadena jumped to a 53-17 lead at the half on 24 of 40 shooting, recording eight steals and forcing Bell into 12 first-half turnovers.
Jolley and Hamilton fed each other with no-look passes on fastbreaks, leading to three momentum-building dunks from Hamilton, who scored 23 of his 25 points in the first half along with six rebounds, four steals and three assists.
Efferson, the sophomore point guard, added 12 points, five assists and two steals. Jolley showcased his mobility and quickness, splitting double teams to finish with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one block. Pasadena also got solid contribution from the bench with Stowers (nine points), a sophomore, and freshman Jeffrey McClendon (four points, four rebounds) leading the way.
Bell was held to 35 percent shooting (16 of 45). The Eagles were led by Mychal Deas (11 points, five rebounds) and Jesus Chiquete (10 points, 11 rebounds). Angel Grimaldi added 12 points.
Pasadena’s challenge now is carrying this renewed spirit with a short turnaround.
“We can’t celebrate too much,” Hamilton said. “We have a big game ahead of us, and we have to make sure we come out and play the say way and play our hearts out.”