After bringing his Blackhawks back to the Rancho Mirage Holiday Classic in his first season as head coach as a pool play team, Ty Thomas decided to give La Quinta a bigger challenge this year.
With the heat of Desert Valley League action picking up in just two weeks, and the Blackhawks in the hunt for a second league title in three years with competition wide open, Thomas slated his squad in the Nike Division. There, they were likely to be batting a bit out of their league, up against some top-tier talent in Southern California.
But beyond one devastating quarter in Wednesday night’s 76-56 loss to JSerra Catholic, where the Lions outscored La Quinta 25-5 for the game’s difference, the Blackhawks have held tough. This loss followed Tuesday’s narrow 75-69 loss to Thousand Oaks.
Not giving up in games that, record-wise, won’t help or hurt his team’s DVL title pursuit, has been one of several positives Thomas has witnessed in his team’s growth over the last two days.
“You can’t do anything but benefit,” he said. “No, you don’t want to come into DVL with a bunch of losses, but there are such things as good losses.”
Despite the final score, Thomas would argue Wednesday’s was one of those games.
Senior Marcelo Zepeda was especially active for La Quinta in the first quarter, sliding into passing lanes and causing steals that kept JSerra off balance. The Blackhawks found themselves tied 15-all midway through before a 10-2 run gave them some breathing room, including some smooth 3-pointers from Zepeda, who scored 15 of his team-high 23 points in the first quarter.
But JSerra coach Zach Brogdon made the necessary adjustments in his team’s huddle before the start of the second period, giving an entirely different look on both sides of the ball. The Lions moved much quicker defensively, making it tough for La Quinta to work their way inside, forcing a few too many threes that didn’t find the bottom of the hoop. As a team, they managed just five points in the second.
On offense, JSerra began to utilize its 6-foot-8 senior forward Sebastian Much, a Princeton-commit, in the low post, where La Quinta had nobody big enough to defend the simple turnaround bank shot on the block. Much scored 15 of his team’s 25 points in the second, part of his game-high 26.
In the second half, the Blackhawks held Much to just two points, but in cutting off points in the paint, left too many Lions open on the perimeter, where they neared a 30-point lead after sinking six second half threes as a team.
But Thomas said heading into league action, he’s not worried about his Blackhawks struggling defending a big man like Much, who’s far more skilled than anyone in the DVL his size.
“The DVL doesn’t have a big guy like that, and we’ve now played against a guy like that two nights in a row,” he said. “The kids are sucking it up. They’re not down on themselves. They know what’s in store for us.”
JSERRA 76, LA QUINTA 56
La Quinta (56)
(FG FT-FTA TP) Marcelo Zepeda 8 2-4 23, Dominic Naval 2 2-3 7, Pierce Sterling 5 6-7 16, Jordan Shetrone 2 0-2 4, Christian Sanchez 1 0-0 2, Matthew Drew 2 0-0 4.
Totals 20 10-16 56
(FG FT-FTA TP) Jordan Alvarado 6 0-0 17, Joey Alves 2 0-0 5, Sebastian Much 11 5-9 26, CJ Ursetta 5 1-4 14, James Pendergrass 2 0-0 4, Omeed Fakhimi 1 0-0 3, Kyle Crehin 1 0-0 3, No. 30 2 0-0 4.
Totals 30 6-13 76
La Quinta 25 5 12 14 — 56
JSerra 21 25 18 12 — 76
3-pointers – La Quinta (6) – Zepeda 5, Naval 1. JSerra (12) – Alvarado 5, Alves 1, Much 1, Ursetta 3, Fakhimi 1, Crehin 1.