ANAHEIM, Calif. — For seven of La Verne Lutheran’s eight players, the Anaheim Convention Center stage was unlike any they had ever played on before.
But facing powerhouse Serra of Gardena in the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA basketball championship, the Trojans were in awe and let their nerves get the best of them. The tiny team that powered through the bracket was stopped by Serra in a 70-52 loss Saturday afternoon.
“I feel like we really didn’t come to play today like we should have,” said Lutheran guard Skylar Williams. “By the beginning of the game, the jitters should have come out.”
Without a true post presence, the Trojans had a difficult time matching up to the 6-foot-10 Emmanual Ndumanya and the 6-foot-7 Tavrion Dawson. And it was obvious right from the start – Lutheran grabbed only four rebounds in the first half while the Cavaliers pulled down 19.
“We knew we had a size advantage to tackle the boards, definitely to get the ball out to Emmanual and Tavrion to take advantage of their size,” said Serra head coach Dwan Hurt. “We were ready.”
Lutheran head coach Brandon Lee felt that his team had a fair shot coming in. Serra had been dealt a loss by Bishop Montgomery earlier in the season and the Trojans defeated Bishop Montgomery to get into the final game.
“We had a game plan set forth and their particular size, strength speed and athleticism disrupted everything we had planned,” Lee said. “We weren’t able to overcome the size barrier and the athleticism at the four and five positions.”
Lee, arguably the most well-dressed coach of the day in an all-white suit with a bring red tie, did not contest Williams’ statement. But while he was upset with the mistakes his team made, he was still proud of the adversity that his team had overcome to get into the game.
“We have eight kids, we can’t scrimmage all of the time 5-on-5. I’m in practice sometimes sweating and being the fifth guy sometimes,” Lee said. “I think they wanted this particular situation a little more than us. We didn’t fight.”
Serra held the Trojans to just 35.2 percent shooting and out-rebounded them 40-15. William was the only one the Serra defense had trouble containing, as he scored a game-high 20 points.
“I thought we played very good defense, our defense rotated,” Dwan said. “Everyone did what they were supposed to do.”
Ron Freeman had the biggest contribution off the bench, going 5-for-5 from the field off the bench to tie his season-high 16 points. Ajon Jefferson scored 15 and Ellis Salahuddin finished with 11.
Serra opened up the game on 14-5 run. The Trojans finally ended that run with a Williams triple. Late in the first half, Lutheran managed to cut the deficit to just four points, 17-13 at the end of the first quarter after a Jay Miller three.
A McKay Anderson dunk opened up the second half and Lutheran was right back in the mix. The two played close throughout much of the second quarter but the game got away from the Trojans late, and they went into the locker room facing a 36-22 deficit and never recovered.
It was Serra’s seventh CIF title, and one that Dwan felt was well-earned.
“I told them that they deserve it,” Dwan said. “I told them to go out and get it and not to give it away because they’ve worked for it.”