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La Quinta basketball fights hard to the end, but Chaffey wins SoCal Div. V Regional title

ONTARIO >> The CIF SoCal Division V regional final featured two teams making their maiden voyage in a regional title game: La Quinta, the No. 12 seed, and Chaffey, the No. 6 seed.

The Tigers were better at navigating the uncharted waters Tuesday night for a hard-fought, 66-53 victory over La Quinta at Chaffey High.

The win earned Chaffey (24-12) its first CIF SoCal Regional championship and a chance to face Stuart Hall in the CIF State title game Friday at noon at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

“It’s surreal, I don’t know how to articulate what I feel,” Tigers coach Erik Crull said. “I’m so proud of these kids. A year ago we won four games in a COVID season where we had 11 games. I know a lot of schools are in that situation but not a lot of schools are regional champs.”

La Quinta (22-12) fell behind early and by a lot, but things changed in the third quarter. The Aztecs trimmed a 29-point deficit to 10 entering the fourth thanks to a furious 21-2 run.

“My thing is always that nobody ever expects a team like us to be here,” La Quinta coach Mark Sanchez said. “Nobody wants to be satisfied with, ‘oh, we made it to a final,’ we want to win. But these kids are tough, they fight hard and I’m proud of them. We just had a hell of a run, and I’m not upset at all. I wanted it badly for them but (we came up short).”

The Tigers’ lead was down to seven points early in the final period, but they made enough plays down the stretch to hold off La Quinta.

Chaffey’s Dejon Clark finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, Daniel Chavez had 15 points (eight in the fourth), and Adrian Gutierrez added 14 points.

“I probably should’ve called a couple more timeouts in the third quarter, but I needed them to play through it and use that resiliency that they’ve shown all year,” Crull said.

The Aztecs were led by Shuaib Tahir’s 17 points. Viggo Nguyen scored 12 points and Ty Tran had 11 points off the bench.

Despite the loss Tuesday, Sanchez hopes his players take their experiences, especially the ones off the court, with them for many years to come.

“Our travels, our fun, and our ‘us against them’ mentality, it brought us together,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve been this close all season long, and so that’s what I hope they remember, the good times.”

“We are a school that is overlooked,” Sanchez added. “Kids want to go to Fountain Valley instead of La Quinta, and we shouldn’t be overlooked. We have a bunch of really good coaches at La Quinta. We have good coaches in our league, our league is overlooked, it is disrespected and we do a good job out here. Our kids are fundamentally sound, they bust their butts and I’m proud of that. I hope that not only did we make our school proud but that we made the whole (Garden Grove) league proud and that we put ourselves on the map.”

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