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By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
SANTA ANA.–As Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Div. 5AA championship game was ticking to an end, an elderly Asian American man gingerly made his way down the steep bleacher steps toward the court. As time expired and players, coaches and officials swarmed the floor, the man, moving slowly but determinedly, jostled his way through photographers and CIF staff.
Armed with his film-loaded instamatic camera, he carefully lowered himself to one knee alongside several other news cameramen and took a single shot of the winning team’s bench. Then, with an assist from a nearby reporter, he got to his feet and made his way carefully through the pandemonium back to the stands.
Richard Synn doesn’t move quickly, but this was a photo he simply refused to miss: his grandson had made the winning basket for Flintridge Prep, propelling the Rebels to their first-ever CIF title.
Freshman Robert Cartwright’s field goal with under two minutes to play sealed the deal for Flintridge, who gathered themselves after trailing at halftime and held off a talented team from John Muir for a 47-44 win and the Div. 5AA crown.
Defense ruled the game played at Mater Dei High School, and such was the case for the last minute and a half or so, as each team’s defense kept the other form scoring.
Flintridge senior Kory Hamane had a clear look at the basket with under 10 ticks on the clock, but his shot clanged off the rim into the hands of Muir. With 2.4 second left, the Mustangs’ Justin Knoweles got off a shot that would have tied the game but the ball failed to hit anything but air as time expired.
“What a battle,” said exhausted but happy Flintridge head coach Garrett Ohara. “We knew it would be a low-scoring affair, just because of playing in this arena, in this setting, playing for the championship. Normally, we score in the 60s or 70s, but today, 47 was enough.”
For Ohara, the win is a healthy dose of redemption, after suffering a humiliating loss in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Perhaps as much as his players’ efforts, he may have his own ability to remain calm and focused on strategies to credit for the win.
“I told the guys at halftime that it’s not happening tonight, so let’s not do it,” Ohara said of his team’s ineffective outside shooting in the first two quarters. “Let’s get the ball inside to where to where we could be a little more productive, that’s what I told them.”
Whatever he said, it worked wonders. Having been behind by six at the break, the Rebels went on a run in the third, outscoring Muir 19-11, which proved crucial as they only had one more point than Muir in the fourth.
The inside game for the Rebels meant getting the ball to 6-foot-8 forward Kenyatta Smith, who tied the game-high with 15 points. Perhaps more importantly, the Harvard-bound senior blocked 6 shots and grabbed 17 rebounds.
“Kenyatta is so mobile and has such sticky hands that he can grab the ball and put it back up, because he’s so accurate,” said Hamane, who finished with eight points. “Our shots were not falling, so we tried to get it up and he was there to clean up our misses.”
Cartwright, who scored 7 in the game, credited Smith’s defense for setting up his final bucket.
“It seemed like we could not hit a shot the entire first half, but our defense kept us in it,” he explained. “Kenatta got a great rebound, found me on the outlet, and I got a good look at the cup and was able to get the basket.”
Hamane’s parents, Keith and Angel, said that Kory and his brother, freshman Kyle, have been extremely focused on the playoffs and have taken it very seriously.
“This is first time they’ve played together on the same team, so it’s really nice that they can share this with the school,” Mrs. Hamane said.
Kyle scored three points in Saturday’s victory.
The Rebels cannot bask in the glow for long, however, as the State tournament gets underway today. By virtue of their Southern Section win, Flintridge gets to open at home in Div. 5, tonight against Tranquility. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
After Saturday’s win, Ohara said his team would
savor the moment, then get back to work.
“We’re going to enjoy this for now, and that makes it easier, going into State with some momentum.”
Kory Hamane said simply, “It’s like a movie. Unbelievable.”