TEMECULA – It was a battle for the top spot in the Ambassador League boys’ basketball standings Wednesday, January 12, between Aquinas and Linfield Christian, and there was no lack of excitement between the two teams, nor the packed cozy gym in Temecula. Both squads entered the contest with identical 6-0 records in Ambassador league play. Round one went to the Lions

Aquinas would deliver the first blow, scoring first, but Linfield Christian (17-2, 7-0 in league) quickly put together a 10-0 run to take the wind out of their sails. In what was an intense game between the two rivals, who both won CIF Southern Section championships last season, it took a headstrong defense from Linfield to put the stamp on the game.

Mike McNair slams home 2 of his 23 points for the Lions as they beat rival Aquinas 68-50 in Ambassador League play. Valley News/David Canales photo

The Lions defensive created 30 turnovers in the showdown, which helped Linfield Christian walk away with a 68-50 victory and sole possession of first place in the Ambassador League standings. Even with 14 of the turnovers coming in the first 11 minutes, Aquinas (13-5, 6-1) only trailed by six points early in the second quarter. From there it was the Damian Ruiz and Mike McNair show as they combined for 19 points in the quarter to extend Linfield Christian’s lead to 40-25 at halftime. Ruiz scored 17 points in the half, and McNair added 15 more for the Lions.

Aquinas tried to get back in the mix in the second half, but the Falcons were unable to put anything together. The Lions would eventually drain four consecutive 3-pointers, two by freshman Julius Brower and one each by Ruiz and McNair, to head out in front 56-29 midway through the third quarter.

Linfield’s Damian Ruiz led all scorers with 24 points including four 3-pointers. Valley News/David Canales photo

Ruiz (24 points) and McNair (23 points) combined for 47 points in the win, while Brower added a career-high 16 points. With stats like that, and with the same three players combing to sink 10 3-pointers in the game, Aquinas didn’t know what hit them. Ruiz also finished with a team-high seven rebounds.

Keishmer Foster was the one shining light for the Falcons with 20 points, but he was the only Aquinas player to hit double figures. James Otieno had eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds. The teams will face each other again Tuesday, February 1, at Aquinas High School.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.