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San Gabriel Academy rallies, then holds on to beat Oakwood for Division 3A title

San Gabriel Academy boys basketball coach Kevin McCloskey talked about his school’s mantra of lifting each other up and never pushing each other down. He said never was that more evident in his team’s character as they battled back from a 10-point deficit to narrowly defeat Oakwood 66-64 in a thriller on Saturday night to claim the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A championship.

San Gabriel Academy celebrates after beating Oakwood by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy forward Bourgeois Tshilobo celebrates after the Eagles beat Oakwood by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

Oakwood guard Benjamin Eisendrath goes up for a shot against San Gabriel Academy. The Oakwood Owls would go on to lose by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy forward Michael Baba attempts a shot against Oakwood. The SGA Eagles would go on to win by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy guard Jayden Mojica drives to the basket. The SGA Eagles would go on to win by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy guard Jayden Mojica attempts a shot against Oakwood. The SGA Eagles would go on to win by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy guard Mazin Lumori attempts a shot against Oakwood. The SGA Eagles would go on to win by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy guard Jayden Mojica attempts a shot against Oakwood. The SGA Eagles would go on to win by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy point guard Ethan McCloskey attempts a shot against Oakwood. The SGA Eagles would go on to win by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

Oakwood guard Antoine Boyd goes up for a shot against San Gabriel Academy. The Oakwood Owls would go on to lose by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy celebrates after beating Oakwood by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

San Gabriel Academy celebrates after beating Oakwood by a score of 66-64 in the 2023 CIF Southern Section Boys’ Basketball Championships at Manhattan Beach, CA on February 25th, 2023.

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It was a championship that was won by a fraction of a second as a potential game-winning 3 by Oakwood went in but was waved off by a referee for being released just after the buzzer.

“I was proud of our guys for never giving up,” McCloskey said. “Every timeout they were over there saying ‘It’s ok. We got this. It’s ok. Let’s go. Don’t get down.’”

San Gabriel Academy’s positivity allowed it to lock in defensively for one final play to earn the championship. Ethan McCloskey was fouled with 16.8 seconds left in the game. He lined up for a 1-and-1 free throw. He missed the first attempt and Oakwood rebounded and moved the ball past half court before calling timeout with 10.9 seconds left down 66-64.

San Gabriel Academy 66, Oakwood 64, final. This final shot was waved off. Eagles win @CIFSS Div. 3A championship. @SGVNSports @Tarek_Fattal pic.twitter.com/cXt58w1x9g

— Donald Morrison (@BruinDonaldRuns) February 26, 2023

The Owls in-bounded the ball to star player Benjamin Eisdendrath who scored a game-high 26 points. He dribbled toward the top of the key then back to the right wing where he was trapped by Mazin Lumori and Jayden Mojica. He quickly turned back left and threw a long pass to the left baseline to Peyton Slaughter who had already hit four of six 3s. Slaughter grabbed the pass beyond the 3-point line and fired a shot that was waved off after time had expired.

“No let down,” said coach McCloskey of his team’s mindset on the last defensive stand. “We played through. We trapped (Oakwood). We made them throw a tough pass and no shot. I’m super proud of my team.”

“Obviously I’d like to think we got the shot off in time,” said Oakwood coach Steve Smith. “Then it would’ve been a Cinderella story. But the officials said we didn’t and that’s the Beauty and the Beast of sports, right? You got to deal with success and failure instantaneously.”

San Gabriel Academy (19-14) had success early in the game before struggling. The Eagles jumped out to a 15-7 lead in the first quarter thanks to hot shooting by Lumori who finished with 14 points. He hit two of his four 3s in the first period and added another two points. It looked like San Gabriel Academy was picking up where it left off in a 73-57 win over Bonita a week earlier in the semifinals.

More celebrating. @SGABasketball @SGVNSports pic.twitter.com/KNPUgZz5cw

— Donald Morrison (@BruinDonaldRuns) February 26, 2023

However, Oakwood’s aggressive offense got the Eagles in foul trouble. Three starters, McCloskey, Marquise Humphreys and Lumori, sat for most of the end of the second quarter with two fouls each. That allowed the Owls to grab a 30-22 lead. The Owls consistently drove to the hoops and shot 11 free throws in the first half, making eight. The Eagles had only one attempt from the free throw line in the half.

San Gabriel cut the deficit to 32-29 at halftime and even briefly took a 34-32 lead in the third quarter when Mojica scored on a layup following a steal. But Oakwood came storming back and took a 49-39 lead with 2:53 left in the third when Slaughter hit a 3 from the baseline following a San Gabriel Academy turnover. Slaughter finished with 19 points.

The Eagles closed the gap to 52-46 at the end of the period then got a big 3 to start the fourth from Lumori to close within three points. The Eagles tied it at 52 when McCloskey hit a 3. Bourgeois Tshilobo gave San Gabriel Academy a 54-52 lead when the 6-foot-8 sophomore charged from the free throw line toward the basket and leaped up and grabbed a missed shot and dunked it. The crowd then erupted in cheers.

Tshilobo later had a similarly electric putback off a miss with a minute remaining that gave San Gabriel Academy a 63-56 lead.

Mojica, who scored 18 points, hit three of four free throws in the final minute. But Oakwood wouldn’t give up.

Hayden Suslow hit a 3 with 49 seconds left to pull his team within four at 63-59. Eisendrath later scored on a layup with 25.7 seconds left to pull the Owls within three at 64-61. After Mojica hit two free throws to put San Gabriel Academy up five at 66-61, Eisendrath hit a layup and was fouled by Mojica. He subsequently made his free throw to pull Oakwood within two.

Oakwood’s (21-9) season is not over. The team will compete in the CIF State playoffs next week. The pairings will be announced Sunday afternoon. Smith said his team will be ready even though this game hurts.

“We’ll learn from this and bounce back from this,” Smith said.

The Eagles will also compete in the State playoffs but the players right now are enjoying this championship, especially after starters McCloskey and Michael Baba missed much of the early season due to injuries.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Mojica said. “If you told me we’d be here at the beginning of the season after starting 0-3 I’d be a little skeptical but I’m glad we stuck together.”

“I cannot express it,” Lumori said when asked how he felt after winning his first basketball championship ever. “It’s just all happiness, joy. I’m just so excited that I did this as a senior.”

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