No league title would be able to top the one La Quinta senior Marcelo Zepeda was a part of two years ago, a memorable moment for the entire school that marked the program’s first Desert Valley League boys’ basketball title in the school’s history.
But landing the game-saving block just moments after missing what could have been game-icing free throws and the ensuing dog pile that followed at the center of defending champs Palm Springs’ home court was pretty sweet.
Just two years after nearly the entire varsity team disappeared due to graduation and a head coach stepping away, Zepeda helped connect La Quinta’s first great team with the present one who took home a 54-53 victory over the Indians on the road in overtime Friday night.
“It feels great,” Zepeda said. “Winning the first one was no doubt the best because it made history, but what matters to me the most on this one is that I was able to be a leader on this one and do what the seniors told me when I was a sophomore – to lead this year.”
After a tight victory 58-56 over the defending DVL champs at home back on Jan. 18, Zepeda said he and his teammates knew tonight’s game, which proved to be a winner-take-all bout for the championship, would be no cake walk. Neither team led by more than six points the entire way, which La Quinta quickly held for 30 seconds early in the third quarter after a Zepeda layup with 5:39 left in the period
But an 8-2 Palm Springs run followed, giving the Indians their first lead since early in the second quarter, and the teams ended the third tied 37-all.
Palm Springs senior Damion Lee helped give his team a four-point cushion with a put-back layup, followed by a transition dunk that brought an ear-to-ear grin as the Indians crowd roared, just 30 seconds gone in the fourth.
The Blackhawks worked their way back with an 11-4 run over the next 6 minutes, 30 seconds to hold a 48-45 lead in the closing minute of regulation. After a La Quinta turnover, though, Palm Springs sophomore Damien King knocked down the biggest shot of the game, a corner 3-pointer, with a hand in his face, to tie the game.
After Zepeda lost control and coughed up the ball with eight seconds left, the Indians had the last possession but couldn’t convert, sending the game into overtime.
La Quinta’s extra time was all sophomore point guard Pierce Sterling, who led all scorers with 23 and had six in the extra four minutes, including two clutch free throws with 52 seconds remaining that gave the Blackhawks their biggest cushion in overtime.
Despite Zepeda missing the front end of a one-and-one with six seconds remaining, up just one, the senior came through with the biggest defensive play of the game, a block under the Palm Springs basket as the buzzer sounded.
Sterling echoes Zepeda’s actions on this year’s championship team – a young, quick guard with plenty of potential. As a result, Zepeda, the team’s senior leader this time around, knows the team will once again be in good hands, despite graduating six seniors after this season ends.
“This whole title and comeback from two years ago was a process. There were some big shoes to fill in Jared Broadhead, Kameron Dashner and other guys,” Zepeda said. “But we knew the future was bright, and it still is.”
LA QUINTA 54, PALM SPRINGS 53
La Quinta (54)
(FG Ft-FTA TP) Marcelo Zepeda 2 5-6 9, Pierce Sterling 8 7-8, 23, Tommy Mooney 4 2-3 10, Christian Sanchez 1 2-4 5, Dominic Naval 3 0-0 7.
Totals 18 16-21 54
Palm Springs (53)
(FG FT-FTA TP) Damien King 5 5-5 16, Kaelan Richter 6 3-3 16, John Scott 4 2-4 10, Damion Lee 4 3-4 11.
Totals 19 13-16 53
La Quinta 10 16 11 11 6 — 54
Palm Springs 10 14 13 11 5 — 53
3-Point Goals – La Quinta (2): Christian Sanchez 1, Dominic Naval 1. Palm Springs (2): Damien King 1, Kaelan Richter 1.