By Stephen Ramirez
AZUSA — Who is the best high school boys basketball team in the San Gabriel Valley Newspapers coverage area?
For one night, the mythical crown goes to Damien.
Senior Jeremy Hemsley scored 27 points and Bryce Peters had 17 as the Spartans, ranked No. 1 by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, beat Whittier Daily News No. 1 Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary, 63-49, in a Southern California Shootout game at Azusa Pacific.
Damien, also getting eight points from Malik Fitts, improved to 20-2. Gligorije Rakocevic had 27 points and 15 rebounds for the Cardinals, who slipped to 12-10.
“It means a lot to win this game,” Hemsley said. “They are a very good team, so this was a game we needed to play well in. We needed to just get back to our old ways, because we hadn’t played well this past week. This is a big win for us.”
The key moments for Damien, which made 19 of 47 shots, came at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third. The Spartans, getting 11 points from Hemsley and nine from Peters, closed the half with a 17-8 surge to lead 29-20.
Damien then opened the third quarter with a 9-5 spurt to go up 38-25 at 4:28 following a Hemsley putback and a 3-pointer by Fitts.
“We knew we could put them away in the second half,” Hemsley said. “I think we did a good job of keeping the lead and playing together as a unit.”
Cantwell, getting consecutive baskets from Luka Radovic and Rakocevic, closed to within 48-42 with 3:40 left. But Damien countered with 3-point plays by Peters and Hemsley and a 3-pointer by Micah Robinson for a for a 58-47 cushion with 1:17 left.
“We played hard,” Cantwell coach George Zedan said. “We had some guys we were counting on who didn’t play well. It was a little frustrating with that. But they are a good team, ranked No. 8 in the state.
“When you have opportunities to score and you don’t make them, this is what happens against good teams. It was a tough matchup for us.”