DUARTE — As analogies go, St. Monica Academy boys’ basketball coach Peter Grimm saw Friday evening’s CIF Southern Section Division V-A semifinal match-up between his squad and top-seeded Duarte High as a hard court version of the biblical David versus Goliath.
While Grimm may have been correct in terms of school sizes and odds, the coach’s team did not duplicate the same mammoth upset.
Fourth-seeded St. Monica Academy saw its greatest run in school history end via an 87-47 loss that likely capped the Crusaders’ season with a 21-5 record and the program’s first advancement to the semifinal round.
Athletic director Darren Bradley, also the assistant coach, noted that St. Monica Academy would apply for a CIF State at-large berth, but that the prospects of winning a bid were small. Pairings will be released March 4. In divisions V-A through V-AAA, only finalists are guaranteed state berths.
“Goliath was certainly very good and very tough, but I’d like to focus on David,” Grimm said. “These boys played with the spirit that our school has, which is to work hard, never give up and play for each other. We’ve been preaching that since the beginning.”
Junior guard Danny Pina scored a game-high 32 points for Duarte (26-4), which also received 14 points from Eli Baxter and 12 points and 14 rebounds from Devon Hemsley.
Senior forward Peter Ford led the Crusaders with 16 points, while junior guard Francis Mirales added eight points.
Of the four division semifinalists, Duarte stood out as a colossus. The Montview League champions boast a student body of 852, which not only dwarfed St. Monica Academy (109), but was also 166 students more than the other three semifinalists combined, which included Calvary Baptist and Da Vinci Design Academy.
St. Monica’s chances were also hampered before the contest as junior forward Charlie Boles, the team’s second-leading scorer, tweaked his knee in warm-ups and wasn’t as effective as usual as he finished with seven points in limited action.
All that produced a contest that was all but decided at halftime.
A three-pointer from Ford saw the Crusaders tie Duarte at 16 with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
From that point, Duarte’s athleticism and skill overwhelmed St. Monica.
The Falcons forced nine turnovers in the first quarter and finished the final three minutes of the period with a 13-2 run capped with a two-footer from Hemsley with no time left as Duarte led, 29-18.
Duarte continued to pressure St. Monica Academy into mistakes bringing the ball up-court, as the Crusaders added eight more turnovers in the second quarter, or into tough shots as the visitors were outscored, 22-4, in the frame and trailed, 51-22, at halftime.
During the Falcons’ scoring spree, the Crusaders endured their own drought, as a jumper from Mirales with 6:24 left in the second quarter wasn’t matched until a runner from Boles with 49 seconds left before the half.
St. Monica Academy won the third quarter, 20-15, but lost a fourth quarter played by each team’s reserves, 21-5.
“Honestly, this wasn’t a great finish, but it was a great season,” said Crusaders senior Sam Gutierrez, who added five points. “I knew we had this type of run in us in the beginning, but it was a matter of putting the work in together and trusting each other as team.”