By Ted Apodaca
Western High’s basketball team got off to a slow start in its season opener on Saturday. But the Pioneers regrouped in the second half and they are hopeful of continued improvement as the season progresses.
Western opened its season with a 54-46 loss to Garden Grove n Saturday at Ocean View High. The Pioneers struggled in the first half, but battled back to give themselves a chance.
“Western High kids don’t quit,” Head Coach Darryl Hilliard said.
Garden Grove started strong and led 33-15 at halftime. But the Pioneers regrouped in the third quarter to cut the gap to 39-32 by the end of the third quarter. Noe Herrera had a game-high 25 points, including 10 in the third quarter as the Pioneers mounted a comeback.
Western stepped up defensive pressure and offensive tempo, which put key Garden Grove players into foul trouble. In the fourth, Herrera converted four free throws that cut the Argonaut lead to 41-36.
After Garden Grove pushed the lead to 43-36, JC Cubias pulled the Pioneers back within 43-38, on a layup off a drive-and-dish assist from Herrera. However, the Argonauts would go on a 5-0 run to push the lead back to 48-38.
Ian Hagusian scored on baseline driving layup and Herrera followed with a rebound and put-back to cut the lead back to 48-42 with 1:30 left in the game. But that would be as close as the Pioneers would get.
Despite the loss, new coach Hilliard said there are a lot of positives for the team to build upon. He said mistakes like turnovers and missed free throws were particularly harmful in the loss.
“We just have to clean some stuff up and we’ll be good,” Hilliard said.
The Pioneers will have plenty of opportunities to improve as tournament season begins. They are at the Los Amigos Tournament this week and will compete in the Loara Tournament next week. They will also play in the Rancho Alamitos Tournament after Christmas. The Pioneers are looking to improve upon a fifth place finish in Empire League last year.