Playing cross-town rival Arrowhead Christian on the final regular season game set up a dramatic finale for the Roadrunners.
Four seniors, Dante Thomson, Chris Lawrence, Michael Aka and Earl Obana, received recognition prior to the start of the game. Parents and students from both schools filled the bleachers. Both cheer teams added to the festive atmosphere. The fact that the winner of the game would finish the season in fourth place and qualify for playoffs just spiced things up even more.
ACA's Zach Hoffmann nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to start the game and went on to score seven of the Eagles' 11 first quarter points. Coach Jeremy Claridge started all four seniors plus Justin Im for LLA, but they managed to not only keep the margin close, but actually took lead by feeding the ball inside to Chris Lawrence who scored four points and grabbed five rebounds. The quarter ended with ACA clinging to a 11-9 lead.
Michael Lawrence continued where he left off Tuesday by scoring six points and hauling in four rebounds in the second quarter. With several Eagles in foul trouble, LLA crept to a 21-20 halftime lead.
The game remained close in the third period, as each team scored 10 points. Dante Thomson led LLA with seven points, but ACA clawed back using 3-pointers from Hoffmann and Evan Carthen.
With the game still tight, Thomson made his only steal of the game and fed the ball to Im for a transition basket. Perhaps this symbolized the seniors passing the torch to the juniors, as the final period became "Junior Night."
Im played magnificent defense to deny any open shots forcing the Eagles into a poor shot as the shot clock ran down. Meanwhile, Joe Rees went on a personal 6-0 run to start to pull away. Im nailed pull up 3-pointer to give LLA a 45-38 cushion with 3 minutes remaining.
As ACA began fouling, Coach Claridge inserted Nick Dalida, who went 4-4 from the free throw line to keep the lead safe.
Although both teams had gripes with the officials, ACA suffered the most during the final minutes when the ref called a foul against number "23 black." When it was pointed out that ACA did not have a player with jersey number 23, the ref peered at the teams lining up to shoot the free throws and declared that the foul was on number 3. Evan Carthen thus picked up his fifth foul when he had not been involved in the play. For Carthen, a senior who has been a stalwart Eagle for at least three years, this was a surreal way to end his league play.
Justin Im had his best game of the season looking more at home at point guard. He scored 17 points and grabbed three steals. Thomson hit for 10 points. The Lawrence brothers combined for 25 rebounds with Chris having 11 and Michael 14. Rees finished with eight points and five boards.
LLA and ACA both finished at 8-6 in the Ambassador League, but LLA wins the tie breaker having won both games against ACA. The computerized MaxPreps rankings placed LLA at 23rd in Division 4A prior to the victory over ACA. There is a remote chance the Roadrunners might sneak into the top of the bracket, but they will most likely be playing on the road next week. Playoff brackets will be available at cifss.org on Sunday.
In the girls game, Loma Linda Academy solidified its hold on third place in league with a hard-fought 49-45 victory over Arrowhead Christian.