Story by Matthew Tsai
Print Managing Editor
Photo by Jayden Eden
That’s what senior guard Tyler Johnson felt after the boys basketball squad pulled out an intense 63-61 win over San Marino on Friday, May 7. And everyone in the gym could see it.
After the buzzer sounded, Tyler sprinted across the court in celebration, flexing his muscles and screaming at the fired-up crowd.
But only minutes before, Tyler and the Tigers were anything but “electrified.” With a two-point advantage and 27.8 left on the game clock, they needed a stop, and Tyler’s twin, Chase Johnson, rose to the occasion. Chase chased San Marino’s lefty guard (the same one who torched South Pas in their previous meeting) around the perimeter, staying disciplined and moving his feet, to force a nearly impossible three-point try.
“I told myself before the game, ‘We ain’t losing,'” Chase said. “And I knew that they were going to try and get [that guard] the ball, so I knew damn well he wasn’t getting no easy shot.”
A brick and an unsuccessful putback attempt later, the Tigers moved up to a 4-2 season record, tying with the Titans for second place in the Rio Hondo League (RHL).
“I was just hot we lost the first time,” Chase said. “We knew we had to win if we wanted a chance to win league, so we were really locked in.”
Every player on the team seemed “locked in.” Chase played pesky defense all game and South Pas received sizable offensive contributions from juniors Sage Wayans and Dillon Akers, who scored 15 and 12, respectively.
However, Tyler’s performance was easily the most impressive. The senior had an efficient season-high 23 points off of corner threes, pull-up jumpers, and lay-ins.
But none of those baskets could hold a candle to his first-quarter buzzer beater. From the opposite free throw line, he swished a 60-footer for a seven-point lead going into the second period.
“Crucial,” Tyler laughs, jokingly describing the shot.
But all the highlight plays aside — Wayans had one of his signature one-handed jams in transition and junior center Micah Matsuoka had a mean swat late in the fourth, too — it was the South Pas defense that sealed the win.
“I think our focus on defensive pressure helped us throughout the night. The guys were really locked in,” head coach Ernest Baskerville said. “It showed very much so on that last possession with all the rotations being solid. I’m very proud of the guys’ intensity level and dedication to defense.”
The Tigers are in the home stretch of the RHL: three expected wins scheduled against Blair, Temple City, and Monrovia, and a dogfight set for Friday, May 14, against La Cañada. The team believes that in the second go-around, their improved team chemistry will bring even more success.
“It has been hard for us to play together because we barely had time to prepare for the season, and then all of a sudden, we’re playing four to five games a week,” Tyler said. “Now that we’ve gotten accustomed to it, I think we’ve all gotten a lot more comfortable doing what we’re supposed to.”
The Tigers will take a short break from the RHL, hosting Artesia on Saturday, May 8, and then Western on Monday, May 10, before chasing after their fifth league win on Wednesday, May 12, at Blair.