Heritage Christian boys basketball falls short against Bakersfield Centennial in CIF SoCal Regional final

NORTH HILLS — Freddie Crawford hit a 3-pointer with five minutes remaining in the CIF Southern California Division II Regional final that encapsulated the weaknesses that burdened Heritage Christian in its 68-56 loss Tuesday and also explained the unpredictable play that plagued the Warriors throughout this season.

Crawford’s 3 was the first field goal not recorded by Dillon Shaw, who led the Warriors with 25 points, or Tae Simmons, who had 10.

Which segues into the greater issue: On a night when the Warriors (26-8) made just 14 shots from the field, it was their lack of experience — Shaw and Simmons are the only upperclassmen that play significant minutes — that doomed them.

“(Centennial) plays six seniors, two juniors,” Heritage Christian head coach Paul Tait said. “We’re completely opposite.”

“In those pressure cooker moments,” Tait continued, “it really helps when you can knock down a shot.”

That’s where Tait hit it right on the head.

Shaw found driving lanes and the Warriors created open looks for their shooters but the shots just didn’t fall.

They opened up the game building an 11-10 lead by manufacturing opportunities for Shaw and Simmons near the basket, one-on-one mismatches where they could catch, turn and finish. Those advantageous looks, however, whittled away as Centennial’s defense sped them up.

Freshmen Djordan Hall and Josiah Nance tend to handle the ball on those sets that include entry passes and the pressure resulted in timidness.

“A couple of our freshmen had some big turnovers early,” Tait said. “It kind of just snowballed downhill after that.”

The Golden Hawks (28-7) took a 30-21 lead into halftime, before opening up the margin to as much as 22 in the third quarter. The Warriors switched into a desperation, half-court 1-3-1 press that turned errant passes into turnovers, but, when broken, resulted in open 3-point shots.

“You get a lot of 3s when you share the basketball,” Centennial head coach Hernan Santiago said. “Michael Gutierrez is an unbelievable 3-point shooter.”

On Tuesday, Gutierrez scored a team-high 16 points, knocking down four shots from beyond the arc. He and Rippen Gill, who had 15 points, each made two 3-pointers in the third quarter to help the Golden Hawks navigate the Warriors zone.

Centennial’s pesky defense and efficient shooting from deep made it tough for Heritage Christian to mount a comeback.

“They shoot 29.5% from 3,” Tait said. “I’m going to guess they shot more than 30% tonight. When the numbers don’t go our way we try to speed them up, we try to do something different. We had to get out of what we were doing.”

As they trailed, the Warriors rarely got Shaw and Simmons touches on the inside. When they did, it resulted in missed layups or trips to the free throw line where pairs were often split.

In many ways, Tuesday’s loss mirrored the one Heritage Christian suffered to St. Anthony in the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA final. In the face of pressure, the Warriors rarely ran succinct sets and couldn’t string together stops and scores.

Reliance on youth can result in shortcomings such as these, but at the end of the day, the Warriors were a youthful bunch that burgeoned.

“A lot of us are coming back next year,” Tait said. “I told them, ‘obviously, let it hurt a bit, but then think about what we can learn from this.’”

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