Esperanza battles its way past El Dorado


ANAHEIM - Esperanza is so much more than Kezie Okpala.

There's Travis Kettering pestering opposing guards and knifing through enemy defenses. There's Brendan Harrick and his sharpshooting from beyond the arc.

Heck, there's even Anthony Koclanakis, best known as Esperanza’s starting linebacker, giving Aztecs coach Mark Hill the beef around the hoop he lost last spring when lovable big Tyler Thomas graduated.

On a night Hill said Okpala didn’t play his best, Esperanza required Kettering, Harrick, Koclanakis and others to beat El Dorado, 65-53, in a Century Conference cross-over game at Esperanza High.

“We showed we’re a bit resilient,” Hill said.

Okpala led all scorers with 23 points, seven of which came during the game’s home stretch.

The junior turned a steal into an easy layup, and later saved an aimless Esperanza possession with a fall-away 3 as the shot clock expired. Okpala then sent his student section into a frenzy with a breakaway dunk.

Okpala and Harrick hit six of Esperanza’s nine 3-pointers.

“Kezie’s a Pac-12 talent,” Hill said.

Esperanza (13-6) wasn’t perfect. Down 12 at the break, El Dorado (11-8) used an 11-2 run to make it a game. Big baskets by Ryen Perry, Garret Boaz and Mathew Terry – plus Elijah Mosham's dirty work underneath – kept the Golden Hawks close.

El Dorado trailed, 42-38, after three quarters, but turnovers were its undoing.

Hill said he was disappointed with how his team played defensively in the second half, but he commended his kids for weathering the storm late.

Mosham, El Dorado’s 6-foot-9 brute, finished with 17 points and 25 rebounds.

“Give him credit,” Hill said. “He was relentless.”

Esperanza begins its Crestview League schedule Tuesday at Villa Park. El Dorado travels to Brea Olinda the same day for its North Hills League opener.

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