Heritage Christian boys basketball continues to build its culture amid success

NORTHRIDGE — Heritage Christian’s gym had cleared out except for the boys basketball team, its coaches and its supporters on Tuesday night.

It was a big night for the basketball community at the school as the Warriors won the Olympic League title on senior night and earned coach Paul Tait his 200th career win. They celebrated the night’s 69-60 win over rival Village Christian with food and togetherness.

“When you’re at home and there’s so much on the line for the seniors and a league title, you just feel like it’s kind of going our way the whole night,” Tait said.

The rivalry lived up to its billing and the game was competitive throughout.

Heritage Christian’s Dillan Shaw (20 points) hit a jumper with 20 seconds left in a low-scoring first quarter, but Village Christian (19-8, 4-3) led 9-8 when the frame came to an end.

The Crusaders got right to work in the second quarter with Deion Lewis, who finished with 13 points, scoring on a jumper and Jaden Karuletwa (15 points) making a 3-pointer for a 14-11 advantage. Their shaky perimeter shooting appeared more steady as the game went on, but Heritage Christian was not-so-quietly getting into a rhythm, too.

“We just needed to connect,” Heritage Christian freshman Djordan Hall, who scored 17 points, said. “We came out there in the first half just thinking we could do it ourselves. But when we started connecting the second half as a team, we thrived together.”

The Warriors (20-8, 8-0) had formed chemistry early this season thanks to familiarity within the team. Hall and the team’s three other freshmen — Josiah Nance, Dominic Loehle and Max Hackney — had played for Heritage Christian’s middle school team and came up through the program together.

Tait said that 10 of his 12 players went to Heritage Christian’s middle school and that everyone on the team this season has been at the school for the last two years.

Moments like Tuesday’s postgame celebration in the gym helps build relationships.

“There’s a great community here,” Tait said. “A lot of juniors and seniors are really taking those freshmen under their wing and it builds culture. And so that’s what we’re hoping continues here for years to come.”

The Warriors’ Roman Fisher sank a 3-pointer to tie the game at 22-all before the his team went on a 6-0 run. Tae Simmon’s turnaround jumper put Heritage Christian in the lead at halftime.

Heritage Christian withstood Village Christian’s press in the third quarter to maintain its lead. The Crusaders manufactured some of their own momentum toward the end of the quarter to close the gap. Andrew Perez scored on a putback at the buzzer to make it 43-41 with the Warriors in the lead.

Simmons went in for a two-handed dunk with 45 seconds left in the game, then came up with a block on the other side of the court to solidify the Warriors’ late-game dominance.

Simmons finished with 14 points and some highlight-worthy plays, but there was no drop-off in confidence when Village Christian guarded him and the ball was dealt to other players.

“At the beginning of the year, we relied so heavily on Tae because he was averaging 20-something last year,” Tait said.

“Tae and Dillan, to their credit, really made an effort to keep getting everyone involved, keep trusting them. It would be really easy for two players of that caliber to force it every single time, but that’s not going to help you in the long haul.”

The Warriors take the next step in building their culture when the CIF Southern Section releases its playoff brackets on Sunday at noon. Village Christian, which is in second place in league with one game left, will also learn its playoff outcome on that day.

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