(No.1) Rancho Christian (19-10): 13-14-18-14=59
                              Norco (15-15): 10-16-06-10=42

TEMECULA – Rancho Christian coach Ray Barefield was not impressed by his team’s defensive effort in the first half of Wednesday evening’s CIF-SS division 2A boys basketball playoff game against Norco.

However, it’s not how you start a game but how you finish it. Coming out of the half the Eagles were active in getting deflections and steals which allowed them to use their speed to create points in transition.

That led to the number one seeded Eagles advancing into Friday night’s second round with a 59-42 victory that earned them a trip to Palm Desert with a spot in the round of eight next Tuesday at stake.

Kollen Murphy drives to the hoop past Norco’s Diego Saucedo in the opening round of the CIF-SS Division 2A boys’ basketball playoffs. Valley News/David Canales photo

Rancho Christian opened the game on an 8-3 run covering 3:30. It started with Kollen Murphy driving straight through the Norco defense for an uncontested layup and finished with a fadeaway jumper on a baseline out of bounds set from Kevin Patton Jr. Norco’s lone basket in that stretch was a three pointer from Isaiah Peters. Another three pointer from the Cougar’s Caleb Ward tied the game at eight with 3:00 left before Rancho Christian rattled off five of the last seven points to take a 13-10 lead after a quarter.

Norco went on a 9-2 run to start the second quarter and grabbed their first lead at 17-16 on a Cole Lester free throw and reached 19-16 on a Lester layup with just under five and a half minutes to intermission. Down 21-18 the Eagles scored nine straight points to take a 27-21 lead on Patton Jr’s three pointer. Peters’ three pointer with just under a minute to the half made it a one-point Rancho Christian lead at 27-26.

“Norco’s a well-coached team from one of the top leagues in our area so I knew they weren’t going to be an easy out,” Eagles coach Ray Barefield remarked. “At the half we went to a smaller lineup that took advantage of our speed and were better defensively which allowed us to go on that run. We had to stop giving up easy layups and play with a greater sense of urgency in that second half.”

It was all Rancho Christian to start the third quarter as the Eagles went on a 16-2 run and took a 43-28 lead with 2:30 left in the third quarter. Patton had multiple dunks in that stretch while the Eagles offense displayed some versatility with Murphy and Rodney Brown Jr hitting mid-range jump shots. Rancho Christian led 45-32 after three quarters.

Kevin Patton Jr. leads the Eagles to a 59-42 over Norco Wednesday, Feb. 9, at home. Valley News/David Canales photo

Starting the fourth quarter Norco had one last quick spurt in them to chop the deficit to 45-37 as Diego Saucedo’s putback plus another three pointer from Peters got the Cougars off to a good start. Austin Nassar’s three pointer gave the Eagles a double digit lead at 50-39 again and they were never challenged from that point.

“We knew that with their height and athleticism that we’d have to keep it a half-court game which we were able to do successfully in that first half,” Norco coach Carlos Castillo said. “However, in that third quarter we turned the ball over way too much which gave them an opportunity to run and we just couldn’t recover from that.”

Norco Scoring:
Udengwu 2, Mendias 3, Velez 2, Lester 7, Ward 3, Peters 6, Liwanag 1, Saucedo 18
Three Pointers: Mendias 1, Ward 1, Peters 2

Rancho Christian Scoring:
Patton Jr 22, Nassar 3, Davis 3, Brown Jr 17, Murphy 10, Chambers 2, Gumwel 2
Three Pointers: Davis 1, Patton Jr 1, Nassar 1, Brown Jr 1


Derryl Trujillo

Derryl Trujillo has been a local sportswriter since 2018 and is the 2019 IEBCA Supporter of the Year award winner. He can be reached via email at socaltrekkie@gmail.com.