First published in the Feb. 18 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
By Nathan Cambridge
Last season, the South Pasadena High School boys’ basketball team reached the second round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, but this season the Tigers had higher aspirations if they could get past visiting Highland High of Palmdale. Instead, history repeated itself.
Despite holding a lead deep into the fourth quarter, South Pasadena could not hold on as the visiting Bulldogs made a late charge and rallied to win, 54-50, in a CIF-SS Division 3A second-round game Tuesday night on the Tigers’ home floor.
“It’s not about what one player did. As a collective unit, we are supposed to get things done and execute, and I felt like down the stretch we did not execute,” South Pas coach Ernest Baskerville said.
The loss ends the season for the Tigers (19-9 overall record), who were seeded No. 2 in the 32-team divisional tournament after having earned a share of the Rio Hondo League championship with San Marino and La Cañada. It marked South Pasadena’s first league title in seven years (2014-15 season).
“It’s a real tough loss because we felt we could go pretty far in this division,” Baskerville said.
Late in the final period, South Pasadena’s Jonathan Guy made a layup, giving the hosts a 48-44 lead and prompting Highland to call a timeout with 1:58 to go. The Bulldogs came out of that break and went on an 8-0 scoring run, starting with a putback by Khalia Johnson.
The Tigers missed two attempts at the other end before Highland’s Ramar Whit made a reverse layup to tie the score.
Whit then stole the ball from the Tigers in the backcourt and immediately made another basket to give the Bulldogs a lead, forcing South Pasadena to take a timeout with 1:05 left.
When action resumed, South Pasadena big man Sage Wayans was fouled in the paint with 45 seconds left and went to the charity stripe with a chance to tie the contest, but the senior missed both tries. The Tigers then started fouling to prolong the game. They sent Bulldog Kai Johnson to the line for a one-and-one with 35 seconds to go, and he calmly made both.
Wayans returned to the free throw line again the next time down and made both to pull within two with 21 seconds to go.
However, after being fouled, Johnson once again hit both ends of his one-and-one opportunity to keep the contest a two-possession game with 14 seconds to go.
The Tigers missed two shots in the final seconds and the game ended, along with South Pasadena’s successful season.
Highland, which was ranked No. 15 in the final divisional poll, demonstrated composure throughout the tight contest and led at the end of each of the four quarters. The Bulldogs were led in scoring by Whit with 22 points, including eight in the final period. Marcus Hill joined him in double digits with 13 points. Johnson finished with seven, including the four late free throws to ice the contest.
“We took an early lead, but we knew [South Pasadena] was one of the best teams in our division,” Highland coach Chris Cole said. “We knew they’d punch us and we’d have to take their punches and our guys responded really well.”
Wayans shared game-high honors by scoring 22 points, including 12 in the first half. Guy had seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter while Dillon Akers also scored 11 for the hosts. Ezekiel Pannell rounded out South Pasadena’s scoring with six points.
South Pasadena trailed for the entirety of the first quarter, which ended 12-7 in favor of the visitors.
The Tigers scored the first seven points of the second period to take their first lead — at 14-12 — on a layup by Wayans. The lead then quickly changed hands four times before Highland took a 28-22 advantage into halftime.
The script was flipped at the start of the third quarter, which saw South Pasadena go on a 7-0 run. Akers made a jumper in the paint, then stole the ball back, leading directly to an emphatic two-handed dunk by Wayans at the other end.
A Bulldog turnover was followed by a three-point play by Wayans, who hit the free throw for a 29-28 advantage 2:02 into the third period. However, it was Highland that scored the final four points of the quarter to carry a 36-35 advantage into the final period.
TIGERS 68, INDIAN SPRINGS 62
The Tigers won a first-round CIF-SS Division 3A game at Indian Springs High of San Bernardino, 68-62, on Saturday evening.
Seniors Sage Wayans and Dillon Akers racked up 27 and 19 points, respectively, while Guy scored seven points for South Pasadena.