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Esperanza relies on team effort to win Division II regional title
ANAHEIM - The anticipated showdown between Esperanza's Kezie Okpala and Pasadena's Bryce Hamilton didn't disappoint.
Okpala, a senior, led the Aztecs with 28 points while scoring from just about everywhere on the court, while Hamilton led his team with 34 points, including a spectacular shooting display in the fourth quarter that helped the Bulldogs make it a close game.
The difference, at least for Coach Mark Hill and his Aztecs, came from the contributions of everybody else.
Jared Obermeier had 14 points, Julian Almazan had nine, all on 3-point field goals, Brendan Harrick and Garrett Geiger chipped in with eight and six, respectively, as they helped the Aztecs clinch the CIF Southern California Division II Regional title with a 68-58 home victory over Pasadena on Saturday.
“Kezie’s not going to have 46 every night,” Hill said, referring to Okpala’s school-record performance in the regional semifinal Tuesday. “Obviously, everybody is going to have to step up. Obermeier hit some big threes to start the game, Julian Almazan in the second half … Guys stepped up at different times and that was so huge for us.”
The Aztecs (29-3) will face Moreau Catholic of Hayward in the Division II CIF State final on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Obermeier went scoreless in Esperanza’s semifinal victory over Crossroads, while Okpala scored 46 of the team’s 64 points that night.
In the first quarter Saturday, Obermeier hit his first two shots, both on 3-point field goals.
“It was good way to come back and help the team out,” Obermeier said. “That’s my role. I usually hit down big shots, but obviously didn’t do that last game, but we had Kezie drop 46.
“To be able to come back is a huge confidence boost because going into next week we’re going to need that.”
The Aztecs continued to attack the Bulldogs and built their largest lead at 47-26 late in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Hamilton took over and changed the direction of the game.
The junior hit five 3-point field goals and scored 19 of his 34 in the final quarter to get the Bulldogs within five points, 62-57, with less than a minute left, but that as close as they would get.
Obermeier made one free throw and Okpala followed with two more free throws to help the Aztecs halt the Pasadena comeback.
“We just have to make free throws at the end because we knew it was going to come down to that,” Hill said. “We missed a few. Hamilton got hot, we guarded, but he just him them. It is just a matter of us doing better on the offensive end, taking care of the ball and making free throws.”
The Aztecs, who went 0-2 in the CIF-SS Open Division playoffs, rebounded with a purpose, recording four victories to earn their trip to Sacramento.
“This is a culmination of three years of hard work,” Hill said. “Hard work that these kids have put in that have been with me for three years. That have come to practice every day without me having to prod them to work hard. They’ve had a business-like attitude and I’m so proud of them.”
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