Kyle Cajigal (12) walks on court with his family for the Basketball Senior Night ceremony. (Art/Photo by Christopher Huston)
Kyle Cajigal (12) walks on court with his family for the Basketball Senior Night ceremony.

Art/Photo by Christopher Huston

Boys’ Basketball Clinch Entry Into CIF Playoffs

March 3, 2023

   After a remarkable season for the Boys’ Basketball Varsity team, seniors were ready to hear one last buzz of the shot clock at Feb. 2’s Senior Night matchup against the North High Saxons, their last home game before advancing to the coveted CIF Playoffs. Senior Night elicited moments of nostalgia, not only for the seniors, but for friends and family in the audience, coaches, and fellow teammates.

   A line of cheerleaders formed a path as the court was festooned with decorative gold and brown balloons. The pregame ceremony witnessed senior players escorted by family onto the court as the announcer paid tribute to their time on the team. Varsity member Shinzo Irie (11) paid particular tribute to the team’s manager, Dylan Gelbaum (12), ahead of the game: “He always gives it his all; every day he films all our games, he comes out to as many games as possible.” Irie added that “he’s just a great personality to be around,” a testament to Gelbaum’s unparalleled conscientiousness.

   Following the tip off by Varsity athlete Cole Jacobs (12), the Warriors got right to work, delivering a fast-paced routine up and down the court that momentarily caught the Saxons off guard. With both formidable defense and iron-fisted offense, the Warriors were up 12 – 4 by the end of the first quarter. The comfortable initial lead was a good indication to many West High fans in the bleachers.

   But by the second quarter, the Warriors began to lose momentum as the Saxons steadily closed in on the lead, consistently scoring layups and 2-pointers inside the paint. The Warriors, conversely, had some trouble offensively, missing several 2-pointers. With the Saxons awarded turnovers multiple times, the second quarter ended with the Warriors trailing 20 – 26.

   The halftime show saw three performances by the Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced groups of West High Dance.

   The third quarter saw a rebound for the Warriors, who briefly flipped the tables. The Warriors resumed with solid footing, scoring basket after basket and briefly surpassing the Saxons. However, North High exhibited an equally robust defense, maintaining an average two-point lead throughout the quarter. The Saxons barely clinched the third quarter five points ahead of the Warriors, 30 – 35.

   The emerging victor would boil down to the final quarter: with the Warriors and Saxons contending neck-to-neck, it was still very much anyone’s game, even with a minute remaining. During the tense eight minutes, both sides took turns erupting in thunderous applause each time their respective team scored. The Warriors narrowed the gap, thanks in part to senior Varsity member Amare Holmes (12), who sunk at least three show-stopping 3-pointers in the final minutes of the quarter.

   With the final two minutes, the Warriors hoped to pull a clutch, even as North High fans, in formidable unison, invigorated the defense with as much passion as apprehension. Despite being on the cusp of winning, the Warriors had their hopes dashed by last-second fouls called by the referees, giving North High the opportunity to buffer themselves in a series of free throws. With two seconds left on the clock and the Saxons leading by 4, the fate was sealed for the Warriors. The final score in this close and hard-fought Senior Night game was 52 – 54.

   Despite this loss, the Warriors experienced an about-face in their matchup a day later, securing a place in the CIF Playoffs by one point. Commenting on this stroke of luck, Varsity player Matthew De Luna (12), who made the winning shot, remarked that he “was really excited to hear that [his team] made it to CIF.” In addition, De Luna was “happy that [his shot] went in,” but also expressed his dismay “that a foul wasn’t called, so [his] next thought was to get a stop on defense.”

   Clearly, the Warriors are looking ahead to what De Luna anticipates will be “some hard-fought battles” and “extremely competitive” teams in the playoffs. While it was easy for the team to brush off the results at Senior Night, De Luna “always found it to be a happy event.” It also struck him as bittersweet, not because of their loss, but because he remembered “the classes before mine and . . . realize[d] it was [his] turn” to retire the West High jersey.   

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