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Esperanza boys basketball defeats El Modena to grab share of North Hills title

ORANGE – Of course Esperanza versus El Modena in boys basketball was a close game.

Esperanza won the boys basketball matchup Thursday night by a tight margin with the North Hills League championship on the line.

The Aztecs beat the Vanguards 60-59 in the league finale and the teams will share the championship.

Both teams finished with 4-2 league records. Esperanza beat El Modena 66-63 in their previous league game on Jan. 24.

El Modena had chances to win Thursday, but missed three free throws in the final 92 seconds.

Esperanza takes a 17-11 overall record into the CIF Southern Section playoffs that begin next week. Esperanza is ranked No. 14 in Division 4AA .

El Modena also takes a 17-11 record into the playoffs. The Vanguards are ranked No. 5 in Division 4A.

Because both are league champions and are in different playoff divisions, both can go into the playoffs carrying the designation as the No. 1 team from their league.

The CIF-SS basketball playoff brackets will be released Sunday at noon.

Senior guard Jaxson LaGraffe led Esperanza with 20 points and made four 3-pointers.

“Great teamwork, the whole game, and great defense,” LaGraffe said. “El Modena is always a battle.”

Esperanza’s Zach Rentch scored 14 points and Zach Preciado made three second-half 3s for his nine points.

El Modena senior forward Nicholas Weed scored a game-high 18 points.  Drew Rodriguez scored 17 points and Brady Lemnitzer scored 16 points with three 3-pointers.

The teams traded the lead several times. Esperanza got off to a hot start, taking a 10-2 lead. Lemnitzer made three 3s in the second quarter as El Modena outscored Esperanza 20-4 to take a 39-30 halftime lead.

Esperanza had a great third quarter, outscoring El Modena 18-7. LaGraffe and Preciado made two 3s each in the third quarter. LaGraffee made a 27-foot 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and send the Aztecs into the fourth quarter with a 48-46 lead.

Weed scored to tie the game 58-58 with 1:54 remaining. LaGraffe made two free throws with 49 seconds left for a 60-58 lead and Lemintizer made one with 31 seconds to go to make it 60-59.


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