By Jack Davis
After a three year drought, the boysâ varsity basketball team will finally be returning to the CIF Finals, after defeating Sonora 67-55 in the CIF semifinals Friday night at Calabasas High.
âThis is what our goal was at the beginning of the year,â guard Nate Bulluck â10 said after the game. âSince our first day at practice, winning CIF has been a goal we set for ourselves, and now itâs our time, our chance. Weâll be ready.â
After the final buzzer sounded, Wolverine fans stormed the court, mobbing the players in celebration, while chants of âWeâre going to the shipâ echoed throughout the Calabasas gym. However unlike its previous playoff games in their run towards CIF Finals, the game against Sonora was anything but comfortable.
Harvard-Westlake opened the game on a 6-0 run, with all six points coming from Center Damiene Cain â11. However Sonora quickly responded with an 8-0 run of their own. The Wolverines ended the first quarter up 16-14, and were able to turn Cainâs and forward Erik Swoopeâs â10 size advantage down low into a 28-23 halftime advantage. However the Wolverines came out from halftime cold from the field, with Sonora seizing the opportunity to pull within three points, as Conner Kjerâs baseline jumper made it 35-32 midway through the third. As the boisterous Sonora crowd began getting louder, and with the Sonora team poised to pull within one or tie the game, the momentum of the game suddenly turned.
After a missed Harvard-Westlake layup, Sonora guard Raffi Chalian grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball up court. However while attempting a pass, Chalian lost the ball near midcourt, with guard Austin Kelly â10 picking up the ball and driving towards the hoop. As Kelly jetted down the right wing, Swoope sprinted down the court from the left wing, with the Sonora Center Marcus Farrand left as the only defender. Kelly realized Farrand was backpedaling, and made the correct read, dishing the ball to Swoope. Just a few feet outside the basket, Swoope took the ball, elevated and slammed the ball with one hand, electrifying the Harvard-Westlake fans and players. As the fans spilled on to the court, Sonora was forced to call a timeout, as momentum firmly swung into the Wolverines favor. From there, the Wolverine lead never shrunk below five, utilizing the momentum from Swoopeâs dunk to go on a 19-4 run that firmly put the game away.
âOnce I put that dunk through, I knew we were going to win,â said Swoope. âI saw the looks in my teammateâs eyes, I saw the looks in the coachesâ eyes, I saw how amped up the fans got, I knew right then, we were going to win that game.â
The game grew tense with two minutes left in the fourth, as Sonora was able to cut the deficit down to seven with a barrage of threes, however guard Nicky Firestone â11 hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
Even after Firestoneâs free throws firmly put away the victory, things stayed interesting as hard fouls by Sonora lead to a double technical foul call against Kelly. The game was aggressive throughout, with words being exchanged by both sides.
âThey were getting really frustrated so they had to resort to hard fouls,â guard Michael Attanasio â10 said. âWhen youâre playing for the right to play in the CIF Championship things are going to get intense, and we play a style of basketball that really frustrates our opponents,â Attanasio said.
Cain led the Wolverines with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Swoope chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Wolverines size eventually wore down the smaller Sonora.
Next up for the battle tested Wolverines, Gahr High School on Saturday at the Pond in Anaheim.
âGahr does not have a strong record, but they played in a very tough league and are very talented,â Coach Greg Hilliard said. âThey have athletes and they love to run. It will be a tough match-up.â
âThey are in the CIF Finals which means they are going to be tough,â Bulluck said. âBut we feel like we can matchup with anyone. We will be ready to go.â