(Staff photo by Keith Birmingham)
ANAHEIM — There may be a time when the Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary may look back at Thursday and reflect on the thrill of making school history by playing in the Cardinal’s first trip to the CIF-Southern Section boys basketball finals.
But not today.
Brandon Taylor scored 23 points and Namon Wright had 14 and top-seeded Pacific Hills ended Cantwell’s dream of championship glory with a 65-42 victory in the 4A title game at Anaheim Arena.
The Bruins, who beat five opponents by an average of 29.2 points en route to the title, improved to 28-4. Cantwell, getting 19 points from super junior Jose Estrada, slipped to 28-5. The Cardinals are likely to receive a bid to the CIF State playoffs when pairings are released on Sunday.
“The time for reflection will definitely come,” Cantwell coach George Zedan said. “The kids have a lot to be proud of, and the school. The buzz around on our campus today was, in my mind, similar to a college environment, so those are memories, those are moments that you kind of live for, you coach for.
“I think they are something these guys will never forget. Obviously, you want to win. But the process and the ride (to the championship game) was a lot of fun. This is a disappointment. But overall, it wasn’t like we weren’t trying. They are a pretty good team.”
Pacific Hills, which scored the game’s first five points and never trailed, put the game away during the third quarter, using an 8-0 surge for a 45-33 lead.
Taylor scored followed back-to-back turnovers with easy layups for a 43-33 lead before Wright knocked down a 14-footer from the side for the 12-point advantage at 1:13.
Estrada, who had averaged nearly 40 points in four playoff victories, including 50 in an 82-62 victory at Ontario Christian in Friday’s semifinals, was held to just four. The junior, from Mexico, who had 15 points at halftime, touched the ball just four times during an eight-minute stretch, where Pacific Hills’ pressure defense forced Cantwell to make just 25-percent of its shots.
“They were giving (me) triple teams and different looks,” Estrada said through an interpreter. “It was getting frustrating not to touch the ball. After a while, it seemed (like I ) took myself out of the game, because with the double and triple teams, I couldn’t touch the ball.”
A key part of Pacific Hills’ ability to shutdown Cantwell, and Estrada in particular, was the ineffectiveness of guard Jacob Alaniz, who was the Cardinals’ 3-point option for much of the season.
But the senior, who was often times deadly while averaging more than 10 points a game, made just 1 of 10 shots, with most of the nine misses short, including three airballs.
“Jacob, especially over the last eight to 10 games, was a huge part of what we are doing,” Zedan said. “Typically, we’re not afraid of doubles and triple teams on Jose, because Jose will do what he did today – find Jacob in the corner, find Jacob spotted up. I guess it was the arena, because I’ve never seen (Alaniz) shoot as poorly as he did.
“But I think a lot of it had to do with their length, and their ability to come out and contest him.”
Early on the Bruins set the tone, scoring the game’s first five points and held leads of 5-0, 16-10 and 27-20. But the Cardinals, behind 15 points in the first half from Estrada, never buckled.
The junior scored on two fast-break layups to cut the deficit to 16-14 at the end of the first quarter before combining an inside shot by Joe Covarrubias with four free throws as the Cardinals caught the Bruins at 20 with 5:42 left in the half.
But Pacific Hills closed the half with a 13-8 surge to lead 33-28 at the break.
The Bruins then used its 8-0 surge to lead 47-35 after three quarters before scoring the first seven points of the fourth for a 54-37 lead that cinched it.
“I think their athleticism and their length really bothered us,” Zedan said. “It just seemed like that we couldn’t get it going int he second half, and the kids then got a little frustrated.
“I would say that we didn’t play very well. But Pac Hills had a lot to do with it.”