SANTA ANA — All year long, Sierra Canyon has ended every pregame shootaround with a simple mantra — “Hard work.”
It has carried the Trailblazers through a grueling nonleague schedule, among the toughest in the country. It was what they relied on after a double-digit loss to Fairfax a week ago and league games against Viewpoint and Windward this week.
Against Oak Hill at the Nike Extravaganza, Sierra Canyon, the No. 5 team in the state, put on its hard hats and went head to head with the No. 1 team in the nation. It clawed, scrapped and attacked the taller Warriors and were in the game right until the final seconds.
Even though the Trailblazers lost 64-60 in its last nonleague test before the Southern Section playoffs, they showed more character and patience playing from behind than they did against Fairfax a week ago in defeat.
Remy Martin, at 5-foot-11, snagged six rebounds against an Oak Hill frontcourt that stood 6-6, 6-7 and 6-10. Devearl Ramsey, at 5-10, guarded 6-6 forward Dwayne Bacon and at times, held his own despite playing with an impacted wisdom tooth. At one point, the guard boxed out Bacon while a teammate grabbed a rebound.
“I felt like I had to do all the little things to get us the win,” said Ramsey, who had 21 points.
Cody Riley had to switch jerseys before the game due to blood from a paper cut and played like a new man. The 6-8 sophomore opened the game with a slam dunk off a missed rebound and snagged rebounds with authority.
Riley had 10 rebounds at halftime, equaling the full total of Oak Hill counterpart Daniel Giddens, and finished with a game-high 15.
“Losing to Fairfax gave us a chance to get with ourselves and realize what kind of team we are,” said Riley.
And what kind of team are they? A battle-tested one that showed poise when trailing 60-52 with 2:10 left. A Ramsey free throw and two Adam Seiko 3-pointers later, the lead was 60-59 with 37.7 seconds left.
Oak Hill just found ways to rally against every Sierra Canyon charge. For a team that continually produces Division 1 college players and future NBA stars, that was to be expected.
Yet considering the scribes on press row predicted the Trailblazers would lose by double digits, the way Sierra Canyon battled throughout was almost satisfying as it showed why they’ve been nationally ranked the entire season.
“These kids are fighters and warriors so they’re never out of it. For a team of sophomores and juniors to have done this, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Sierra Canyon head coach Ty Nichols said.
The Trailblazers continue today to start the Gold Coast League, their fourth game in five days. With the Southern Section Open Division looming afterwards, perhaps this week was one last reminder of that mantra they chant with full gusto before their games.
Hard work. Hard work. Hard work.
“We’ve had a harder schedule than any team in the Open Division so we will use that to our advantage,” Riley said.