Loyola pounces early and holds on late to ground the Eagles

It’s become all too familiar for Chaminade—- first losing on a buzzer beater by the hands of Milan Acquaah and now dropping a thriller at home to Loyola. Aside from Michael Oguine’s career day against Village Christian in which he scored a school record 45 points, Chaminade has lost all of its games that have been decided by single digits as it has played its fair share of tune-up games thus far. In stark contrast, Loyola has already played the likes of Fairfax and Long Beach Poly and it certainly showed on Wednesday night. The Cubs came into what will surely be their most hostile environment all season at Chaminade and clawed their way out of it with a 63-59 win.

From the get-go, Loyola’s zone defense proved problematic for Chaminade as Coach Jamal Adams clearly did his homework. Daring Chaminade to shoot, Adams used 7-foot and younger brother of UCLA freshman center Thomas Welsh, Henry Welsh, to clog up the paint. Clog it he did all game long as the Eagles settled for three after three. Pair that sort of rim protection with four players who totaled double digits and the Cubs became a difficult team to stop. Despite just a 5-14 shooting night from Max Hazzard, Loyola’s role players stepped up and provided offensive relief. Some unlikely help came in the form of Nick Skoro who threw in 14 points and pestered the Eagles in the backcourt. Skoro hounded Oguine and Jordan Ogundarian and forced the Eagles into short possessions by refusing to allow them to get into their offense. More than anything else though, it was Loyola’s timely shooting that put the nail in the coffin. Each time Chaminade crept closer and closer during its second half run, Loyola seemed to hit a contested shot which proved to be the difference in the game.

If nothing else, it was the Eagles’ intensity as well as that of The Cage that kept them in the game. Managing to shoot just 11% from three-point land and 27% from the field overall, they never seemed to get into the hot shooting rhythm that has kept them competitive in all of their games this season. The Eagles swear by the long ball but on Wednesday night, the old basketball adage proved to be true, “Live by the three, die by the three.” With Loyola daring them to shoot, they were certainly getting open looks, but they simply couldn’t buy a basket. That led to some fresh legs in crunch time for the Cubs which ultimately sealed the ballgame.

And yet still, there is reason for hope in West Hills. Despite posting its worst shooting performance by far all season, Chaminade was never out of the game by any means. Dylan Cuenca made things difficult all night for highly touted Max Hazzard, pressuring him in the backcourt and denying him the ball whenever possible. With a bevy of capable defenders in the backcourt, the Eagles were well equipped to corral Hazzard and limit him to a poor shooting performance. With Hazzard having to do most of his damage away from the ball, the Cubs were forced to turn to many of their players who were not accustomed to handling the ball, leading to 21 turnovers to Chaminade’s six.

Though the game was disheartening to say the least for Chaminade, the Eagles are well-aware of the fact that the gauntlet of a schedule that the Mission League brings along with it is a marathon and not a sprint – that much is clear. Although Alemany was heavily favored to win the league at the onset of the season, the Warriors also dropped their home opener to Crespi, setting the stage for Chaminade to contend if it continues to play like it did on Wednesday. So long as their defense can remain consistent, I still like their chances as far as a Mission League championship goes. This team has showed us time and again that its three-point shooting is tried and true. It’s fair to say that Wednesday’s poor display of shooting was a fluke. Chaminade will get a second whack at Loyola, and it will certainly deliver its best punch in what is sure to be a game that will decide the fate of the Mission League.

– Conner Hoyt