Palm Springs fans who might have believed their team was beaten at halftime were right – eventually.
The fans’ reward for hanging in for the second half? After falling behind by as many as 22 points in the first half, the Indians rallied to within 69-67 with 1:08 to play before eventually falling to Cerritos-Valley Christian, 73-69, in their CIF-SS first-round Division 2A playoff game Wednesday night.
Trailing 45-28 at halftime, the Indians rallied with a barrage of three-point baskets and an up-tempo offense to generate a grandstand finish. Indians senior center Jon Scott, saddled with foul problems all night, made the putback lay-up that got Palm Springs within two points late in the game. But on the next trip down the floor, Valley Christian senior guard Aaron Purnell made a decisive 3-point basket from the right wing with :38 to play, giving the visitors a 72-67 lead.
Palm Springs (19-7) cut its deficit to 72-69 with 6.6 seconds left with a steal and lay-up from Kaelan Richter, but Crusaders junior guard Trevor Laparl sealed the win by making the first free throw in a one-and-one situation to give Valley Christian a 73-69 lead with 4.5 seconds left. Richter, a junior guard and the impetus for the rally, finished the night as Palm Springs’ co-high scorer with 23 points, a total matched by junior forward Damien King.
“It’s a testament to what we’ve been doing all year, not quitting, coming right back into it,” said Palm Springs coach Chris Howard. “I just wish we hadn’t spotted them 20 points in the first half.”
But they did. Crusaders captain Johnny Johnson and Purnell both got off quickly, combining for 19 points in the first eight minutes. Johnson made the second of his two 3-point baskets in the quarter with three seconds remaining to give the Crusaders (15-13) a 23-14 lead, their biggest of the game to that point.
The Crusaders continued to heap misery on the hosts by scoring the first five points of the second quarter to double-up the Indians, 28-14, forcing Howard to call timeout with 7:48 to play in the half. That didn’t stem the momentum, as Palm Springs kept missing inside shots, then failing to get back on defense. By the time King made his first of two 3-pointers in the half, the Indians were down 35-17.
However, the Indians immediately set about rallying in the third quarter, with Richter and King pouring in four 3-pointers in the first half of the quarter to twice cut Valley Christian’s lead to 10. Another Richter three with :30 seconds to play in the third got the lead under 10, 56-47, and a lay-up from senior center Damien Lee with one second left in the quarter got the Indians to within 56-49.
The Indians spent much of the final quarter down by 5 to 7 points until an old-fashioned three-point play from Lee cut the lead to 69-65 with 1:48 to play. Scott’s basket 40 seconds later got the Indians as close as they would get.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Valley Christian coach Bryan Branderhorst. “(Richter) was fantastic, I don’t know what he finished with, but he showed a lot of guts sticking with the game. (King) did a great job, a great job of shooting … so lots of credit to Palm Springs. They did a great job of sticking to it.”