Verdugo Hills channels ‘Hoosiers’ but falls to Athenian in CIF state boys basketball final

Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills looks over the runner-up trophy as Athenian defeats Verdugo Hills 67-49 to win a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

SACRAMENTO — Verdugo Hills High has been a popular filming location for movies over the years but its boys basketball team completed its own captivating drama on Friday.

The Dons, who play in a small gym and are sometimes overshadowed by neighboring schools, competed on an NBA-sized court Friday in the CIF State championships.

With no player taller than 6-foot-3 and its point guard injured, the team relied on resiliency and shooting to make its first appearance in a state final.

Sound a bit like the film Hoosiers?

Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills loses the ball against Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Ricardo Hernandez #22 of Verdugo Hills inbounds the ball off the leg of Surya Devasenapathy #3 of Athenian in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Georges Abdulnour #11 of Verdugo Hills drives to the basket against Athenian in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Georges Abdulnour #11 of Verdugo Hills drives to the basket against Athenian in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills reaches for the rebound against Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills drives to the basket against Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Teni Salako #20 of Athenian blocks the shot by Georges Abdulnour #11 of Verdugo Hills in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Jabez Agustin #2 of Verdugo Hills reacts after shooting a three pointer against Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Georges Abdulnour #11 of Verdugo Hills with the towel over his head against Athenian late in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Teni Salako #20 of Athenian blocks the shot by Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills shoots against Athenian in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Gianmarco Figueroa #15 of Verdugo Hills has the ball stolen by Evan Lucas #2 of Athenian in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Georges Abdulnour #11 of Verdugo Hills shoots past Evan Lucas #2 of Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills looks over the runner up trophy as Athenian defeats Verdugo Hills 67-49 to win a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Head coach Jared Gibson of Verdugo Hills reacts against Athenian in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Athenian defeats Verdugo Hills 67-49 to win a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Teni Salako #20 of Athenian blocks the shot by Alexander Martinez #25 of Verdugo Hills in the first half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Garik Yepremyan #3 of Verdugo Hills drives to the basket against Evan Lucas #2 of Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Garik Yepremyan#3 of Verdugo Hills Athenian defeats Verdugo Hills 67-49 to win a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Verdugo Hills react against Athenian in the second half of a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Verdugo Hills player with a prayer on his shirt prior to a CIF State Division V boys basketball championship game against Athenian at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 8, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

of

Expand

For Verdugo Hills and head coach Jared Gibson, the story indeed came to life.

The Dons didn’t win their final game like the Indiana high school team in the film but were still filled with pride after falling to Athenian of Danville 67-49 in the Division V championship at Golden 1 Center.

“These guys are so dang resilient,” Gibson said of his players, all of whom he patted on the head afterward. “If you guys saw the court we play in, it’s about 75 feet long. … We can’t even play playoff games there, so coming out on a NBA court, it’s like good old Hickory from Hoosiers. I almost had to bring the tape measure out for our guys.”

“It’s pretty impressive that we got here,” he added. “I walked in 17 years ago into the gym, and I looked up and it said 1959 last league title. And 17 years later, we’re sitting here giving it a go for a state title. (We’re) regional champs, section champs. These guys are champs. I know they don’t feel like it right now but they are champions.”

The transition to the home court of the Sacramento Kings provided to one of the challenges for Verdugo Hills (25-12), the Division II champion in the L.A. City Section. The Dons made 7 of 34 shots (21 percent) of their 3-point attempts. They sank only 3 of 16 in the final period.

Gibson said he believed his team needed to make about 12 to compete with the taller and more athletic Owls (28-8), who shot 55 percent the floor.

Senior guard Jabez Agustin was a bright spot Verdugo Hills, making 5 of 11 attempts from beyond the arc en route to a team-high 15 points.

“I air-balled my first two 3s,” he said. “(Gibson) always gives me confidence and he told me shoot with confidence.”

Verdugo Hills played without junior point guard William Gharabekyan, whose left hand was in a cast.

The Dons, who never led, trimmed their deficit to 18-17 early in the second quarter thanks to a 3-pointer by Georges Abdulnour and a layup by Gianmarco Figueroa off a slick, backdoor pass from Alexander Martinez (12 points, seven steals).

But Athenian called timeout and closed the half on an 18-3 run. Guard Evan Lucas sparked the Owls’ surge with consecutive 3-pointers and a three-point play off a drive. The senior guard finished with a game-high 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Early in the third, Athenian stretched its lead to 38-20 before Verdugo Hills showed more fight. The Dons received a spark from their 1-3-1 zone defense and went on a 9-0 run to trim Athenian’s lead to 38-29.

But just like in the second quarter, Athenian responded and pulled away for its first state title.

Abdulnour (11 points) earned the Dons’ Victory with Honor sportsmanship award for the game.

“It was a crazy run,” he said. “I’m just proud of everyone here. We made history at Verdugo. … We didn’t finish the mission but we got all the way over here.”

Related Articles

High School Sports |


Live high school updates: 2024 CIF State basketball finals

High School Sports |


Top 5 storylines for this weekend’s CIF state basketball championships

High School Sports |


Daily News basketball: Previews for the boys and girls state championship games

High School Sports |


Boys and girls basketball: Scores from Tuesday’s regional finals, schedule for CIF state finals

High School Sports |


Etiwanda girls basketball team holds off Sierra Canyon, will defend CIF State Open Division title in Sacramento

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *