Maranatha basketball falls to Heritage Christian, starts to look ahead to CIF-SS playoffs

PASADENA—Even though it wasn’t the outcome the Maranatha boys basketball team had hoped for, it was a night to remember for Zain Mahmood and the other seniors on the team.

They were honored before their Olympic League game on Friday night against Heritage Christian which also happened to be their last home game of the regular season. The Minutemen lost 62-48 but Mahmood and the others didn’t let that spoil the special occasion.

“It was such a great event,” Mahmood said of the ceremony honoring the seniors before the game. “Even though it didn’t end the way we wanted, I can’t help but smile a little bit.”

Mahmood finished the game with a team-high 15 points. This is his second year at the school after arriving from the Toronto area. His parents flew out to watch him play in what might be his last home game before moving on to the collegiate level.

“Honestly, I never knew what kind of emotions would flood in,” he said about his feelings before the game. “As I was in the locker room, I was like ‘Dang, this could really be the last one depending on playoff draws.’ I’m just grateful that God gave me the opportunity to play basketball.”

Maranatha coach Tim Tucker credited his seniors for the effort they’ve given since joining the program.

“Those guys have really played hard for me through the years,” he said. “You always want them to be celebrated on their way out the door.”

Maranatha (16-8, 4-3) will play King/Drew in a nonleague game on Monday before ending the regular season against Whittier Christian.

A win against Whittier Christian and a Heritage Christian win against Village Christian would put Maranatha in a second-place tie with Village Christian. The Minutemen will then wait until Feb. 4 to see where they end up in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs. They’re currently ranked 12th.

The loss to Heritage Christian didn’t put a damper on Tucker’s optimism about Maranatha’s postseason chances.

“I like our chances to go a few rounds in the playoffs,” Tucker said. “I think if we put it together maybe we can see (Heritage Christian) again. We know we can play.”

Heritage Christian (19-8, 7-0) wrapped up the outright Olympic League championship with the win. The Warriors came into the game ranked No. 3 in Division 2AA and are a young team. They start three juniors and two freshmen.

The Warriors were led by two of those juniors, Dillan Shaw and Tae Simmons, who are both getting attention from NCAA Division I programs. Shaw scored a game-high 23 points while Simmons scored 21 and grabbed eight rebounds. Shaw scored 14 of his 23 points in the third quarter and prevented Maranatha from seizing any momentum.

Heritage Christian led 29-15 at halftime. After a Trevor Cohen slam dunk pulled Maranatha to within 29-20, Shaw nailed a 3 to put Heritage Christian up by 12. Later in the quarter, Maranatha pulled to within nine again at 37-28 before Shaw scored five straight points to give Heritage Christian a 42-28 lead.

Maranatha refused to give up in the final quarter. Mahmood hit a 3 from the top of the key with 3:18 left to make it 52-43. But Shaw hit a 6-foot turnaround jumper that was followed by a Simmons tip in a short time later that extended the Warriors’ lead to 56-43. The Minutemen would cut that lead to 11 but couldn’t get any closer.

Heritage Christian got off to a hot start, leading 18-4 at one point in the first quarter then 26-8 early in the second quarter.

Tucker said he was proud his team played hard but also said the slow start and some mistakes doomed them early.

Mahmood was the only Minuteman to score in double figures. Giacomo Manzella scored nine points off three 3-pointers. Cohen added eight points and Nicholas Khatchikian contributed seven.

Mahmood said his spirts and the team’s spirits are still high despite the loss.

“It was a feel-good night,” he said. “We played hard. What else can you do?”

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