By Pat Turner
Warren lost its share of the District 28-6A lead after stumbling twice prior to the Holiday Break.
When play resumed this past Saturday, the Warriors (15-4, 5-2) came back reenergized and regained their balance with a 59-49 victory over Clark.
O’Connor (15-6, 6-1) and Brennan (14-6, 6-1) still share the lead, but Warren remains in the hunt with hopes of getting on a roll.
“We needed a break,” Warren coach Kyle Smith. “We needed to get away and relax. We came back and tweaked some things. We had good practices and played well. You don’t want to put too much into two losses, but at the same time you have to make adjustments.”
Warren, which sits in third place, started showing signs of taking charge of the contest toward the end of the first period.
After Clark (3-17, 1-6) vaulted to a 13-8 lead on 3-pointers from Luke Gibson and Truett Heintzelman, Warren finished things off with a jumper and 3-point buzzer shot by Kino Rodriguez-Thompson for a 15-13 lead.
Warren upped the advantage to 29-21 at the end of the second quarter with more late heroics that included buckets by Jayden Campos and Rodriguez-Thompson (18 points), along with Matt Owens’ 3-pointer.
Clark rallied in the third period. Gibson’s 3-pointer and four free throws, along with points from Heintzelman and Cooper Vanlandingham, closed the gap to 43-40.
Warren regained its fire in the fourth quarter. While limiting the Cougars to nine points, the Warriors started hitting from the outside with Owens, who finished with 13 points, nailing two threes and Nick Vann popping in another.
“We lost our top player (before the break),” Smith said. “That was a big blow mentally. We had to get over that. The roles changed for several players. We had players making plays. We want to keep improving. Our goal is to play our best basketball in January and February.”
Jay (12-8, 4-3), currently tied with Stevens (12-7, 4-3) and Brandeis (12-7, 4-3) for the fourth spot, went into the break on a roll after topping Taft and the Broncos.
Because things were looking sharp, Jay coach Chaun Brooks was sure if taking a few days off was a good thing.
Much to his delight, the Mustang picked up where they left off with a 68-58 win over Marshall (10-10, 3-4).
“We were fortunate enough to win two games before the break,” Brooks said. “Breaks can be hard when you’re playing well. But because of those wins we came back with a better attitude. We came back with confidence.”
The Mustangs, relying on 20 points from Marcus Alcaraz and Stephen Mahler’s 19, started clicking early in zooming to a 39-29 halftime lead.
Jay increased the margin to 49-30 at the beginning of the third quarter on two threes from Mahler. However, Marshall got on a roll behind the hot hand of Sayvon Frye (20 points) and the inside work of Diego Walton.
Suddenly, Jay’s double-digit advantage decreased to 53-46 at the end of the third quarter.
Marshall made it even more tense in the fourth period after pulling within 59-55 on Walton’s shot underneath and two free throws. The Mustangs, however, braved through the storm, thanks to more aggressive defense and free throws from Mahler, Danny Amezquita and Armani Tate.
“The guys are doing a great job,” Brooks said. “They’re moving the ball and sharing the ball. We’re absolutely a team.
O’Connor held onto first-place with Brennan, but the Panthers needed a strong fourth quarter to pull out a 61-57 win over Stevens.
Stevens showed its offensive flash with Khouri Perkins (17 points), Carlton Linguard (15 points), Jerene Batts (12 points) and Angelo Samudio (10 points) keeping the Falcons in front much of the game.
After falling behind 40-33 at halftime, O’Connor showed more aggressiveness on defense in the second half. The Panthers held Stevens to seven points in the third period, but their lack of offensive output kept them in a 47-40 hole.
Still, it was a start in the right direction. O’Connor’s defensive tactics carried over into the fourth period. Eventually, the offense showed more life.
Down 53-48 with 3:25 remaining, O’Connor cut the deficit to 57-56 on a layup and 3-pointer from Brenden Wenzel (22 points) and Brandon Jones’ three.
Defense paved the way for more heroics with the key being two steals from Isaac Orozco. One of the picks set up a layup for Jones. Orozco’s other defensive stop led to eventual free throws from Wenzel and Jones.
“We were trying to make plays,” Orozco said. “I was trying to bring the energy. In the fourth quarter we focused on playing our game. Everyone stepped up.”
No doubt defense was the difference.
“The guys really responded in the second half,” O’Connor coach Brett Jewasko said. “They got after it. We went after loose balls. We made plays. Isaac made some huge plays. He’s always around the basketball.
“Everyone’s intensity picked up. We needed that because Stevens is a really good shooting team. That helped us on offense, too. We were in a funk but got it.”
Brennan fell into a first-place tie with last week’s loss to Marshall.
However, the Bears got their game back in gear with a 61-45 pasting of Holmes (4-15, 2-5).
Brennan scratched out a 27-24 halftime lead, but the Bears broke away in the second half after cooling down the Huskies. While holding Holmes to 21 points, Brennan erupted for 34 points.
Brandeis also had a much-needed rebound.
After tumbling to Jay in its final game before the break, Brandeis strolled to a 75-43 victory over Taft.
Brandeis had trouble in the first period, but came up with clutch shots by Tanner Brown, who led the Broncos with 21 points, and Kyle Schaefer (15 points) to squeeze out a 14-11 lead.
The big boost came in the second period. Brown and Schaefer continued to find the net and help also came from Cordell Nunnery (13 points) and Jordan Wood, who had eight points with eight rebounds and four assists, as Brandeis leaped to a 36-20 lead.
Brandeis added the crowning blow in the fourth period with a 23-7 run.
Harlan (10-8, 5-0) kept a lock on District 28-5A’s top spot with a 69-65 win over Medina Valley.
The Hawks were in a 31-29 hole at the end of two but picked up the pace in the second half to gain victory with the shooting of Demarco Reed (16 points), Jelen Hanspard (11 points) and Michael Bell (10 points).