Damien steps on the gas after a sluggish start and beats Fairfax

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

La Verne Damien, seeded No. 1 in the Southern California Division I basketball regional and a team that scored 102 points in its first-round game, had a nine-point halftime lead over Fairfax on Saturday night but looked uncomfortable and frustrated having plodded its way to a mere 27 points in 16 minutes.

It took a scoring outburst in the third quarter, spearheaded by Ezekiel Alley, to lead the Spartans (31-4) to a 60-44 victory and send them into a Tuesday semifinal game against Corona Centennial.

Alley scored 10 of his 14 points in the third quarter, including two three-point baskets.

Fairfax (26-6) had closed to 33-27 when Damien went on a 10-0 run to break the game open.

“The first half I wasn’t hitting my shots,” Alley said. “I didn’t want to let my team down. I knew if I hit my first shot it was going to keep coming. I got hot.”

Justin Hemsley had 14 points and 15 rebounds for a Damien team that won the Southern Section Open Division consolation championship and has lost only to Chino Hills, Santa Ana Mater Dei and Chatsworth Sierra Canyon this season.

Damien made six three-point baskets, giving the Spartans 329 this season, one of the best totals in the history of the Southern Section.

Cameron Shelton, who played last season for Chino Hills, scored eight points, leaving him 15 points away from setting a single-season Damien scoring record.

He hugged Fairfax Coach Steve Baik afterward. Baik coached him last season at Chino Hills.

Ethan Anderson scored 17 points for the Lions, who ended their season the way it began, with standout sophomore Robert McRae on the bench with his right hand bandaged after a second surgery for an injury.

With Jamal Hartwell struggling with his shooting, the Lions lacked firepower. Kirk Smith tried to help out with 15 points.

Fairfax will return its entire starting five.

“Our best days are ahead,” Baik said.

The Division I semifinals will feature Corona Centennial playing at Damien on Tuesday and Taft traveling to Eastvale Roosevelt.

DJ Davis and Jalen Hill each scored 24 points in Centennial’s 72-64 victory over Redondo.

Roosevelt defeated Oak Park, 82-67. Matt Mitchell scored 28 points.

Taft held off Vista, 56-55. Antwan January scored 16 points.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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