Southwest Eagles Winged at Spartan Arena

Central shooting guard Diego Navarro (#24) unleashes seven threes in the first half. Photographer: Javier Guerrero

EL CENTRO — Crosstown foes Central Union and Southwest grappled at Spartan Arena Tuesday night in a high school boys’ basketball showcase where the Spartan offensive shot down the Eagles’ last minute ascent to claim the 73-69 victory.

The Eagles swooped in early knocking down a three and free throw to take a quick 4-0 lead, but Central shooting guard Diego Navarro (#24) immediately responded with a long ball of his own to make it a 4-3 game.

After going blow for blow, Central’s Diego Baez broke an eight-all tie with a tip in to spearhead a 6-0 run while Navarro contributed a layup and TJ Smith wiggled through the defense and finished off with a scoop shot to put the Spartans up 14-8 midway through the first quarter.

Southwest answered back with a 6-0 run of their own as Tyler Saikhon drove in and scored, Emmanuel Lopez put back an offensive board, and Nathan McFadded laid in a slashing finish that briefly silenced the home crowd, and the scoreboard read 14-14 with 1:55 to go in the opening period.

Navarro broke the game’s fourth tie on his second try to finish off the first quarter, putting the Spartans up 21-18.

Southwest’s Eric Pompa splashed in back-to-back threes to open the second, and the Eagles reclaimed the lead at 24-21. 

A fast break lay-in by Charles Thomas and a heat-check bank shot three by Navarro ignited the crowd along with a 16-2 Spartan surge.    

Navarro turned on the flame thrower to scorch three more long balls during the rally as Central lunged ahead 37-26 with 3:40 remaining before halftime.

Southwest clawed back to pull within two scores, but another fireball by Navarro, giving him seven in the first half, helped the Spartans take a 42-35 advantage into the locker room.

Two minutes into the second half, Central saw its biggest lead at 49-37 after Baez nailed a put-back and then converted a free-throw to complete a three-point play.

The tempo cooled down in the third quarter as both defensive units only allowed a combined total of 10 points in the last five minutes. 

Down 57-47 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Eagles struggled to gain ground as Central’s sharp shooter Navarro continued to find the bottom of the net, tacking on eight more points in the period.

A slash to the cup by Pompa brought Southwest to within ten and hoops by Grant Hansink and Saikhon made it a two-score game at 65-59 with less than three minutes remaining.  Navarro quick-released his eighth three of the contest to put the Spartans back on top 68-59.

The Eagles outscored Central 9-2 in under two minutes, finding themselves down 70-68 with the ball and 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

As Southwest inbounded and approached midcourt, Central’s Robert Gariby hounded the Eagle point guard, forcing a jump ball. The possession arrow pointed to the Central side as the Eagles saw their last possession slip away. The Spartans tethered the Eagles’ fourth quarter flight attempt to come out with the 73-69 win.       

“Tonight, two really good teams played a very hard game,” said Central Spartans’ Head Coach Juan Valenzuela as he addressed the team after the game. “We utilized the clock as our ally and did what we were supposed to do.  Sometimes as coaches, we need to stick to the rhythm the game is giving us.  I’m proud of you guys to the max.  It takes unity.”