By John Honell, Correspondent
Senior Night emotion wasn’t enough for the Rowland High School boys basketball team to pull off an upset against Bonita on Wednesday night. The Raiders led at the end of the first quarter but the Bearcats, who already had clinched the Hacienda League championship, came from behind for a 60-44 win. The win was the 11th consecutive for the Bearcats (23-3, 11-0), who remained undefeated in league play with one game left at Diamond Ranch on Friday.
There were two ties and four lead changes before the Raiders used an 11-4 run, including three 3-pointers, to take a 20-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Derrick Mar had a pair of three’s and Joseph Dionisio added another in the run.
Sharif Watson had 11 of his game-high 23 points, along with a pair of blocked shots, in the first quarter as the Raiders appeared primed for the upset.
“We had them shooting 8 for 9 in that first quarter,” Bearcats coach Greg Eckler said. “But I also thought they were outhustling us. They did the same the last time we played them. They outhustled us early. It was kind of a reality check before we dug in and got some stops and put some points on the board.”
Watson hit a 3-pointer early in the second quarter to give the Raiders their biggest lead, 23-15, before the Bearcats’ defense took charge.
Following Watson’s basket, the Bearcats went on a 14-2 run and took the lead for good at 26-25 on a basket by Jordan Butler following a turnover. Butler led the Bearcats with 14 points.
“We used that emotion and did a good job,” Raiders coach Gordon Hamlow said. “We were active and we had a lot of energy early, but they did a good job defensively and we started standing around and you can’t do that against a good team.”
The Raiders twice pulled within two points, the last time at 33-31 with 4:25 left in the third quarter. The Bearcats then went on a 12-0 run to take a 45-31 lead and put the game out of reach.
James Northop started the run with a layup off a turnover. Brandon Ko was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made two of three free throws. Ko then stole the ball and passed to Northop for a 3-pointer. Butler hit another three and finished the quarter with a pair of free throws.
“Our intensity picked up and that was the key,” Eckler said. “We had a terrible practice yesterday and a terrible shootaround, so all we were talking about was heart and energy and desire. None of that was there in the first quarter, so that’s something we’re worried about right now because we can’t do that in the playoffs.”
The Bearcats, ranked fifth in CIF-Southern Section Division 3A, will have a home game next week in the first round of postseason play.
The emotion came back for the Raiders late in the game as their fans started chanting for injured team captain Robin Yi.
Yi, a three-year varsity point guard, tore a knee ligament in a scrimmage game just prior to the start of the season. He was carried onto the court by his teammates to shoot free throws for an “injured” Zach Yamamoto.
“That meant the world to me,” Yi said. “To have so many supportive fans and that my team cared for me. It brought a tear to my eye. I was looking forward to this year, obviously, but things are going to happen in life and you just have to move on.”