LA HABRA >> Rivalry games can often develop in strange ways. So it wasn’t entirely surprising that La Habra didn’t look like a team that should be considered one of the top boys basketball teams in the area during the first half of its game against Sonora on Friday.
With Sam Howlin on the bench with foul trouble — along with prolific shooter Cameron Dashiell also hampered with three fouls — Highlanders fans had every reason to be concerned.
Then the third quarter happened.
La Habra scored 14 consecutive points at the start of the quarter that proved to be the difference as the Highlanders defeated the visiting Raiders 57-44 to stay in first place in the Freeway League.
Ja’len Overstreet was the leading scorer for La Habra (19-2, 4-0) with 13 points and Luke Ashford added 11.
Daniel Esparza tallied 11 points for Sonora (15-7, 3-1) and Marqui Worthy pumped in 10 points with four rebounds.
“This win was all about culture from within our program,” La Habra coach Aaron Riekenberg said. “We’ve been drilling it into our players that it’s about ‘we not me.’ The guys really stepped up in the third quarter and it was great to see.”
Overstreet and Dashiell each played a huge role in the third-quarter explosion as they scored 10 of the points during that span.
When you add in Howlin grabbing seven rebounds along with the La Habra turning up the defensive pressure, it proved too much for Sonora to overcome.
“We felt that (Sonora) was getting too much success without that much pressure bringing the ball into the front court,” Riekenberg said of his team’s defensive performance in the second half. “We wanted to contest every shot they took.”
The fourth quarter began in much the same manner as the third quarter developed, with the Highlanders going on an 8-3 run with Howlin scoring a layup while being fouled that gave La Habra a 49-36 lead.
Howlin got into foul trouble when he picked his first two fouls four minutes in the first quarter. After being inserted back into the lineup for the second quarter, Howlin scored only one point and committed his third foul with 7:12 left in the half.
“Sam is usually pretty good about the fouls that he commits,” Riekenberg said of Howlin, who finished the evening with five points and 13 rebounds. “He does a really good job of walling off defenders. But this was about our guys on the bench that stepped up and kept us in the game.”
Overstreet picked up the slack for the Highlanders as he scored eight of his 10 first-half points in the second quarter. His 3-point basket with 2:15 left in the second quarter trimmed the Raiders’ lead to 24-22.
The Raiders established early control of the game midway through the first quarter by going on a 10-2 run to take a 15-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. Worthy led the way for Sonora in the first half with eight points and Tobin Igros added six points.
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