Welcome back, Cleveland High basketball. The Valley missed you.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Cavaliers, a traditional powerhouse, were floundering at 1-3, perplexing all. Valley basketball watchers were forced to elevate teams such as Antelope Valley, Grant and North Hollywood above Cleveland on top 10 lists. All the while, people waited for the Cavaliers to gel.
Wait no more. Cleveland has ended the calendar year in grand style, disposing of a pesky Hart team, 71-61, in the thrilling final of the Hart tournament. The win improved Cleveland to 10-4 and most certainly will help the Cavaliers climb those top-10 lists.
“Yep,” guard Eddie Hill grinned. “Cleveland is back.”
This road, though, wasn’t easy. The Cavaliers had to battle a packed and noisy Hart gym. Indian fans cheered with a fervor that matched the furious action on the court. As if that weren’t enough, the red-hot shooting of Hart’s Micah Ohlman proved a thorn.
As Cleveland Coach Marc Paez will be pleased to point out, the happy ending cannot be underrated. “They had us on the ropes,” Paez said. “It would have been easy to fold with the crowd going crazy, but we played like mature young men.”
What the coach speaks of is the fourth quarter, in which Cleveland stood idly by as Hart chipped away at what was a 15-point Cleveland lead. The Cavaliers led only 61-57 with 4:06 left.
But Cleveland sophomore Brandon Martin went strong for a layup and Hill followed with a three-point basket with 2:19 left to thwart the threat. Much of the reason Cleveland had to finish strongly was the torrid shooting of Ohlman, whose 27 points led all scorers.
“They’re just a great team,” said Hart Coach Greg Herrick, who coached Cleveland during the early 1980s. “They don’t make mistakes. I mean, what are you gonna do?”
Cleveland knew what it would do--celebrate. The jubilant Cavaliers, who have won nine of 10, clapped and chanted and cavorted and danced in rhythm after the game, wearing smiles one and all.