At this time of year, every time a basketball team takes the court they find themselves in a win-or-go-home situation. But the Millikan Rams have been playing must-win games for the past two weeks, and have won them all.
The Rams ended the regular season winning five consecutive games, including a play-in game for the Moore League’s fourth and final playoff spot. The upstart Rams are the Cinderella story of this boys’ basketball season, and the carriage isn’t turning into a pumpkin just yet.
The Rams gutted out another impressive victory on Tuesday night at Howard F. Lyon Gym, using a 14-2 fourth-quarter run to put away West Torrance 51-48 in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 3A playoffs.
“I’m very proud of this team because we’re hitting our stride at the right time,” said second-year Rams head coach Curtis Boyer. “We had a lot of hiccups in the early part of the season with energy and a lack of focus. Our record could easily be drastically different in the positive direction if we were playing at the start of the season the way we’re playing right now. So I’m damn proud of the progress they’ve made.”
Senior guard Kamaury Washington continued to lead the Rams in all facets of the game, pouring in a game-high 23 points. He owned the paint offensively, both off drives and offensive rebounds, plus hit a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter to give the Rams a lead they would never relinquish.
Washington reflected on how far the team had come since starting off Moore League play 1-6. Now the Rams are one of just two Moore League teams left in the playoffs with a trip to the quarterfinals coming up on Friday.
“Our backs were against the wall, we didn’t even know if we were gonna be here,” Washington said. “It’s honestly just a blessing to be here. We came out and we said a prayer before the game, and we just came out and kept playing hard. We stuck to the game plan and listened to coach and we came out here and got the job done.”
The teams were remarkably even through the first three quarters, with neither team scoring more than two consecutive buckets and the largest lead sitting at just six points. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when a team finally made a move, and it was Millikan delivering the decisive haymaker.
After West Torrance scored the first bucket of the fourth to take a 40-37 lead, the Rams went on a 14-2 run to put the game away. Washington scored half of those points, but freshman big man Jackson Cryst had six of his eight points in that stretch to help seal the victory.
“My role isn’t to be the biggest scorer, it’s just to get rebounds, lock up and finish layups. So if I stay relaxed and play hard, it’s hard to mess that up,” Cryst explained. “It felt really great to seal it, to interact with the crowd with the energy and everything. And the biggest thing was just getting stops, that’s what felt the best.
Millikan’s defense was the key in that fourth quarter, allowing West only four points in the first 7:30 of the quarter before the Warriors rained in a few desperation three’s to make the final score closer.
Millikan senior Eric Bonales added eight points and sophomore Donovan Desha chipped in seven. West Torrance was led by 12 points from Daiki Narimoto and eight each from Kevin Lee and Amare Holmes.
The way the Rams have improved from the start of the season until now is a credit to the players and their coaching staff, with Boyer at the helm for his first full season in charge. If this playoff run is a sign of things to come, there’s reason for Rams fans to be excited.
“I had a very shortened season last year during COVID, so this is basically my first season,” Boyer explained. “It takes time to build a culture, but they’re starting to see it. And we even saw it on the lower levels throughout the season … So the future looks bright if they keep listening and doing what we’re asking them to do.”
Next up, the Rams will travel out to Palmdale to take on Highland High on Friday, making the program’s first trip to the quarterfinals since 2016. When asked what the feeling was like in the locker room as the winning streak hit seven games, Washington put the entire season into perspective.
“Honestly, we all just know that we’re blessed to be here, man,” Washington said. “We just had to have faith coming out of that 1-6 record to just keep playing, and keep playing hard, believing in ourselves and having faith that we could do this.
“And here we are.”