No team wins a championship without overcoming some form of adversity, and Long Beach Poly certainly faced its fair share on Tuesday night. The Jackrabbits were in a hostile road environment against Orange Lutheran, and were without leading scorer Christian Watson for a majority of the first three quarters as he was saddled with foul trouble all night. But the Jackrabbits dug deep in the final quarter, outscoring the host Lancers 27-7 over the final eight minutes to pull out a 67-49 win in the CIF-SS Division 2AA quarterfinals.
“I feel good,” said Poly head coach Shelton Diggs after the victory. “We gave them all their points I felt like in the first three quarters, but once we decided to play better defense and take away some stuff, we were able to go on a run.”
That run was a 20-4 spurt to open the final quarter, turning a 42-40 Poly deficit into an insurmountable 60-46 lead. Poly’s zone defense frustrated Orange Lutheran into only three made field goals in the final quarter, and the Jackrabbits did well in cleaning up the defensive glass.
A big part of that effort was 6-foot-8 senior Jalen Pitre, who had perhaps his best game as a Jackrabbit. The Pepperdine signee provided a consistent scoring threat for Poly as he racked up a game-high 24 points.
“It’s my senior year, and when you’re on the verge of losing a game that you could win, it kinda brings out the best in you,” explained Pitre. “With the scoring and rebounding, I’m trying to do my job so the team can win. When Christian (Watson) gets to the basket as easily as he does, I’m looking at him like ‘If he can do it, I can do it too.’ So I started doing exactly that and I started to produce and help my team out, doing exactly what he can do.”
Pitre’s mimicry of Watson was an undeniable success as he helped keep the Jackrabbits in the game until their point guard was finally able to get some consistent playing time in the fourth quarter. That’s when Watson scored 13 of his 21 points, going 9-for-10 at the free throw line in the final frame. As a team, Poly made 13 of its 15 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter after going just 1/6 from the charity stripe in the third.
Senior Anthony Robinson had just six points for Poly, but he was instrumental in running the offense while picking up additional minutes. Lorenzo Marsh also chipped in seven points for the Jackrabbits.
“We’re a deep team,” said Diggs. “We’ve got guys where if one goes down, somebody else is ready to step up. And that’s just how the game goes.”
Orange Lutheran was led by 16 points from senior Yigit Arcan and 11 from junior Seth Brown.
Though the Lancers home crowd was poised to try to rattle the visiting Jackrabbits down the stretch, Poly remained poised and tight-knit to weather the challenge and advance to the next round.
“When the crowd is talking trash to you, the opposing team is talking trash to you, and getting in little push fights, that meshes us together,” Pitre explained. “That’s how you build chemistry. We’re fighting together, literally, against the other team and the road crowd. I feel like our chemistry has gotten better these last two games.”
Poly will get to face another road crowd on Friday in the CIF-SS Division 2AA semifinals, visiting Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights. The Conquerors knocked off top-seeded Colony, 58-49, in their quarterfinal game on Tuesday to improve to 15-1 on the season. Friday’s game time is currently scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off at Los Altos.