Trinity Classical Academy and Banning will duke it out on the hardwood Saturday afternoon to determine who will be crowned the CIF-Southern Section Division 5A boys basketball champion.
“The team’s excited because we’ve been working so hard this season to get this far,” said Trinity senior Peyton Frazier. “Now, all we need to do is win.”
The anticipation has ramped up as practice comes to a close every day. Final preparations have begun, and the Knights are fine-tuning the game plan for the championship game.
“It’s unbelievable. Everybody is pushing each other to get better,” said Trinity junior Will Yumbar. “The team is as well prepared as possible for this next game.”
Both teams have a strong case to take the trophy back to their respective trophy cases. The Knights have won nine of their last ten games while the Broncos orchestrated eight wins in the same period.
“I would say defense and defensive execution,” said Trinity head coach Aaron Southwick on the key to Trinity’s success this year.
The Knights have definitely found success sticking to their system, but they will need to find a way to halt Banning’s progress. Its recent success is capped by a 57-51 victory over the Division 5A No. 1 seed, Linfield Christian. The Broncos didn’t receive a seeding themselves.
With an upset like that, it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibilities that they can do it again. Trinity is the No. 2 seed in the 5A bracket, and the Broncos will look to topple another favorite.
Southwick isn’t concerned with fabled giant slayers. His main concern is giving his players the tools they need to be successful and put them in the best position to win basketball games.
“We don’t really think about those things,” Southwick said. “We just get after it and try to execute and win the ballgame.”
Picking up the CIF-SS Division 5A title won’t be a walk in the park. Banning has played a stout defense all year and its offense has been building momentum over the last several weeks as the championship game approached.
A large part of the Banning defense is forcing turnovers to create offensive opportunities of its own. That is another factor that the Knights aren’t worried about as long they stick to the fundamentals they have practiced all season.
“We’ve been pressed by many teams and we haven’t struggled,” Frazier said. “We’re not worried about it. We just know to stay focused. Don’t let the other team get in our head and just make plays because we’re all smart basketball players.”
While keeping the ball out of Banning’s hands will be an important part of the battle, it’s futile if Trinity doesn’t make the most of its possessions. The plan is to always keep the ball moving, attack the basket and look for open shooters when Banning crowds the board.
“Our coaches prepared us well for this game,” Frazier said. “Just do what we’ve been doing all season. If we do that, we’re all pretty confident we can win this game.”
As for the Bronco offense, the Knights will have two players they need to key in on: Amari Callender and Semaj Miles. The duo creates a threatening offense that can gouge opponents from multiple points of attack.
Callender’s 6-foot-3 frame, combined with aggressive athleticism, has allowed him to make explosive plays in the paint this year. The Knights will need to keep him away from the basket and force situations where he needs to take low-percentage shots.
“Our defensive goal is to try and stop any kind of high percentage shot around the rim,” said Southwick. “(Callender’s) a great player. We’re definitely going to have our work cut out there.”
The dual-threat is completed by Miles, who is a vicious shooter.
“They’ve got the ability to spread the floor with him,” Southwick said. “It’s always a challenge defensively when you try to take out the attack in the paint when they have a guy that can spread the floor.”
Unphased, the Knights will walk onto the court with a head full of confidence. Plenty of film study and drills have prepared them for what’s to come and they feel ready to bring home a CIF-SS title.
“I’m confident in our guys defensively that they’re going to play good defense and close out the shooters,” Southwick said. “We’ve done that all season and I have complete confidence we’re going to be able to do that.”
Southwick isn’t the only one confident in his team. The players believe they are set up to walk away with the win, too, as long as they continue to play together.
“Just working as a team,” Yumbar said of the key defensively. “Knowing that if I overplay, Kyle or John’s going to come and help me out. They know that if they let their guy come by, I’m going to be there to stop him.”
As is the case with most games, it will be crucial for the Knights to get the ball rolling early. A quick start on offense and an early stand on defense will behoove Trinity.
However, basketball is a game of runs. A great start can turn sour, and a poor start can eventually bear fruit. That is why the most important factor for the Knights will be tuning out the distractions and focusing on playing their game.
“I think we’ve been focusing on concentration all week,” Yumbar said. “If we just bring that to the game, if everyone is at 100% focus level, I feel like we have a good shot.”
Tipoff is at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Godinez High School in Santa Ana. Parking at the event is free.