The La Crescenta Full Force eighth grade 14-year-old boys basketball team made a deep run in this past weekend’s National Junior Basketball Whittier Summer Blast Tournament June 11-12. Thirty-eight teams entered the tournament, which was played in several gyms throughout Whittier and nearby cities. The Full Force played a grueling schedule during the weekend tournament which included three games on Sunday reaching the championship game undefeated before losing to the Long Beach J-Squad.
Pool play started Saturday with a game against the very athletic La Mirada Stars. Full Force battled early with the Stars who played with ferocious intensity from the beginning of the game. The game was tied 10-10 in the first quarter when La Mirada made a 22-7 run to open up a 32-17 lead by the middle of the second quarter over La Crescenta. La Mirada’s active defense induced five Full Force turnovers in rapid fashion to establish the 15-point gap. Momentum started to shift back to Full Force when Bryan Wang threaded a pass in the paint to Anthony Simeonov for a basket. Full Force crashed the boards to gain extra possessions as they battled back with key baskets by Jake Johnson, Eric Patten and Wang to pull within 36-33 at halftime.
In the third quarter, La Mirada made another push and managed to get the lead back up to 55-47 seemingly in control of the game going into the fourth quarter. Challenged by Coach Gayle to play defense and make stops, Full Force went out and played with the defensive intensity that had helped them reach tournament championship game three times previously in the past six months. Full Force wore down the Stars. Patten dominated the boards grabbing seemingly every rebound. Gio DeGuzman and Wang led the stiff Full Force defense repeatedly stealing the ball from the dazed Stars. Beck (23 points) and Patten (19 points) went on scoring frenzies to help Full Force outscore La Mirada 23-7 in the fourth quarter to win it 70-62.
On Sunday, Full Force started out by manhandling tournament host Whittier Thunder 56-34. Patten led all scorers with 14 points. Johnson and Beck each scored 11 and 9 respectively. With the win, Full Force earned the number one seed in their pool heading into the playoff rounds.
In the semifinal game, Full Force battled the Palos Verdes Cagers. Full Force fell behind 10-2 within the first three minutes of the game and struggled throughout the entire contest to handle the Cagers’ inside/outside game. Despite struggling, Full Force never quit and continued to battle as Patten began to control the boards. With less than a minute left in the game, Full Force took its first lead of the game 50-49 and hung on to win 53-51 to reach the championship game. Patten led with 19 points. Nick Diaz scored 12 and Wang scored 8. Michael Payne and Ben Ortiz played crucial minutes at the point guard position to key the victory over the Cagers.
Full Force met the Long Beach J-Squad in the championship game. Exhausted from having already played three full games in less than 24 hours, the boys struggled to keep up with the J-Squad, which featured two eighth graders who played above the rim. Full Force lost 63-37 to take home the second place trophy. Beck led Full Force scoring with 12 points. Wang and Michael Payne each scored five.
Since December, Full Force has reached the championship game in four tournaments winning the Santa Barbara Invitational outright. “Coach Gayle did a great job coaching this weekend. We are much better than we were before Coach took over the team (two years ago),” commented Wang. “We’ve all gotten better.”
“I’m very proud of these boys,” said Coach Gayle. “They felt terrible after losing the last game but I let them know how much they had accomplished and how far they have come. They are good kids. They represent our community wonderfully.”