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ROD VEAL, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Players on Esperanza's bench begin to celebrate as the Aztecs close in on a victory over Canyon in a Century League game Tuesday at Canyon.

Esperanza finishes strong, knocks off Canyon

FOR OCVARSITY.COM

The Esperanza boys basketball team came into Tuesday night’s Century League game against Canyon on a nine-game losing skid, but you wouldn’t have known that by watching its performance against the Comanches.

Esperanza silenced the famed “Canyon Crazies” by topping the host Comanches, 69-62, behind 19 points from Ryan Barok.

Esperanza coach Mark Hill said that his team has been on the brink of big wins in the Century League, but have fallen short in the end.

“We were up on (Canyon) by 20 at halftime and lose by one, we’re up on Villa Park in overtime and we lose by one and last Friday we’re up on Brea (Olinda) in overtime and we lose by one,” Hill said of the most notable of the Aztecs losses.

“It’s been a tough road for us,” Hill added, holding back a smile. “But the important thing is, they’ve come to practice, continued to work hard and continue to believe in themselves.”

Barok, whose Aztecs’ team had been victorious in just one league game prior to Tuesday, described the win as an “amazing feeling.”

“We only have one win (in league) and we’re happy to make it two.” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling. Everyone played great defense and gave 120 percent.”

After playing from behind for much of the second and third quarters, Canyon (15-9, 6-3) put together a 12-0 run over the last 3:38 of the third, capped by two deep 3-pointers from Nick Anderson and JoJo Ballestero, to take a 52-47 lead into the fourth.

“We know they’re going to make runs here and there,” Hill said. “It’s all about staying with the mindset that we can play with them; we stayed with it and didn’t panic.”

the Aztecs (7-18, 2-8) didn’t panic despite recent struggles and locked down defensively in the fourth, while converting on 10 of 12 free throws in the final 2:17 to secure the victory.

“We’ve made a commitment to play defense,” Hill said. “It’s made a huge difference for us, because now we don’t have to play zone. We can defend people.”

As for the victory Tuesday night, Hill wasn’t the least bit surprised.

“It’s a win that’s long overdue, having lost nine games in a row” he said. “I’m just happy for the kids.”

JoJo Ballestero led Canyon with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Nick Anderson added 17 for the Comanches.

In the Pacific Coast League:

Corona del Mar 73, Irvine 51: Blake Grable scored 27 points and Max Stone scored 20 as the host Sea Kings (16-8, 6-1) defeated the visiting Vaqueros (13-11, 3-4). Cameron Foster and Semaj McLaughlin each scored 13 for Irvine.

University 73, Beckman 72: Arya Anvar scored 14 points to lead the visiting Trojans (8-16, 2-5). Charles Wright grabbed a school-record 28 rebounds to go along with 19 points, and Kavon Weissberger added 26 points for Beckman (7-17, 0-7).

In the San Joaquin League:

Saddleback Valley Christian 81, Orangewood Academy 47: Dontae Caldwell had 19 points and Eric Rwahwire added 14 to lead the Warriors (19-5, 8-0) past the host Spartans.

In the Academy League:

St. Margaret's 61, Whitney 48: Brian Murphy scored 13 points and Matt Nicholas added 10 as the visiting Tartans (15-7, 5-1) won at Whitney.


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