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Esperanza Outlasts Griffins


In the fall, the Esperanza football team swiped the Sunset League title away from Los Alamitos. In the winter, the Aztecs are threatening more of the same.

Esperanza outlasted the Griffins, 77-69, at Los Alamitos to take over first place in league by one game with three to play.

The victory Wednesday not only made up for the home loss third-ranked Esperanza (20-3, 6-1) suffered at the hands of fifth-ranked Los Alamitos (16-6, 5-2) Jan. 10, but it positioned the Aztecs to win their first Sunset basketball title. They came to the Sunset from the Empire League in 1993.

To get the win Esperanza made two critical changes in strategy.

Instead of the man-to-man defense the Griffins easily exploited with their speed and quickness, Coach Mark Hill put his team into a full-court and matchup zone that effectively slowed Los Alamitos and forced 20 turnovers.

And on offense, Esperanza brought center Josh Greer--who led all scorers with 29 points and had 10 rebounds--to the high post and put the other four players in the corners. That spread out the passing lanes.

Taking advantage were forward Lohnnie Tape, who had 16 points before fouling out, and guard Matt Munson, who had 13.

Greer, Tape and Munson were responsible for Esperanza overcoming Los Alamitos' 28-26 halftime lead. The Aztecs seized control of the game with a 15-4 run to open the third quarter, which made it 40-32 with 3:40 remaining in the quarter.

Los Alamitos made its last serious run, tying it, 47-47, with six seconds remaining in the third, but Greer made a three-pointer as time ran out to put Esperanza ahead, 50-47.

"This was probably our best all-around game of the year," Greer said. "Los Al is a great team, so it's nice to come into their house and win, like they did to us."

Hill wasn't ready to claim the league title yet, but he admitted the Aztecs were in the place they wanted to be.

"Now we have to keep perspective," Hill said. "We have to remember what happened to Los Alamitos. After beating us, they went out and lost their next game."

Griffin Coach Steve Brooks doesn't think Esperanza will throw away its chance the way Los Alamitos did Wednesday.

"You can't have 20 turnovers and expect to win a game like this against a team of that caliber," Brooks said. "Plus we weren't able to penetrate the middle and create opportunities. For that you can credit their defense.

"They haven't won it yet, but they're in the driver's seat. Esperanza can do what everybody else wants to do: control their own destiny."

In other Sunset League games:

Edison 46, Fountain Valley 44--After Fountain Valley's Nathan Strange tied the game with 12 seconds remaining, Edison's Chris Gibson made an eight-foot jumper with one second remaining.

Fountain Valley (10-12, 3-4), which trailed Edison by nine points at the end of the third quarter, was led by Strange's game-high 21 points and Tim Katz's 16.

Pat Zaldo had 11 points to lead Edison (12-10, 3-4).

Marina 67, Huntington Beach 56--Steve Bolton had 21 points and Eric Christmas had 20 for Marina, which won its first league game of the season (8-14, 1-6).

Josh Pardo scored 13 points for Huntington Beach (6-15, 3-4).

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