By John Honell, Correspondent
LA VERNE – The Hacienda League boys basketball teams have produced a lot of surprises through the first half of league play but, as usual, two-time defending champion Bonita is all alone in first place.
The Bearcats (17-5, 5-1) jumped out to an early lead, then held on down the stretch to knock off Diamond Bar 51-46 on Monday night.
“I thought we’d be chasing a couple teams this year,” Bearcats coach Greg Eckler said. “Especially after we lost that second (league) game to Diamond Ranch. I thought we’d have to make a late run to get back in it. So, to finish like this is pretty solid but there’s no time to take a breath. We get Rowland on Wednesday and Diamond Ranch on Friday. This is no time to celebrate, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
The Bearcats have a one-game lead on Diamond Bar, Walnut and Rowland at the halfway point of league play.
The Bearcats made only 1 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, but Ryan Ramirez and Dane Hollar grabbed some key rebounds.
“Their offensive boards killed us,” Diamond Bar coach Ty Watkins said. “They’re always physical here and sometimes that’s good for us. We missed some shots but I thought we had some opportunities to get to the line a little more but both sides were physical.”
Ramirez had 12 rebounds and 11 points for the Bearcats.
The Bearcats’ Brian Mahood hit a 3-pointer for a 3-2 lead and Bonita never trailed.
That started a 13-3 run as the Bearcats looked like they would run the Brahmas out of the building.
“It felt like we were down by 20,” Watkins said. “It took us a while to get going. Maybe just because it is Monday after a tough game on Friday.”
The Brahmas lost their first league game, to Rowland, last Friday.
The Bearcats’ match-up zone defense keyed a 9-2 run to open the second quarter. That gave the Bearcats their biggest lead of the game, 22-9, before the Brahmas started battling back.
“Their zone was very effective until we started attacking more,” Watkins said. “That made a difference and we battled back to get back into it.”
Noah Montoya led the Bearcats with four steals in the first half, including one and a length-of-the-court run for an easy layup.
“Noah is one of our best defenders,” Eckler said. “He is fantastic off ball and getting into the passing lanes. He provides a great spark off the bench.”
The Brahmas started connecting from the 3-point line in the third quarter but couldn’t stop Riley Brungard, who scored eight of his game-high 14 points to keep the Bearcats on top.
“We were up eight at the half,” Eckler said. “We thought we should have been up double digits, but we made some silly mistakes. Even though they were struggling, we let them get a couple extra buckets to let them hang around.”
The Brahmas battled to within two points, 42-40, with 6:19 left in the game.
After a timeout, the Bearcats went on a 9-0 run to take control.
“It was ugly at the end,” Eckler said. “We were really poor at free-throw shooting (2 of 15) tonight. We made up for some of that poor shooting with some rebounds off missed shots.”