Boys varsity basketball wins league, chases YULA

Ari Feuer, Sports Editor

The Shalhevet Firehawks came just short—literally—of defeating their ever-problematic rivals in the annual basketball game as the YULA Panthers barely squeaked past by the Firehawks, 53-52 in possibly the most electrifying game the rivals have ever displayed.  The showdown took place in the gym of the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (‘LACES,’ for short), at 7:30 PM Feb. 13.

“We played hard and hustled the entire game, and we walked away with a win inside,” said starter Eitan Spitzer. “We saw all of our hard work pay off throughout the season and especially in the YULA game.”

In years past, most of the contests between Shalhevet and YULA sports teams have been lopsided and rather predictable—usually to YULA’s advantage.  This time, the Firehawks were either in the lead or within striking distance until the final buzzer sounded.

The 300-or-so fans could not be sure of the game’s outcome until Firehawk co-captain Shay Alkoby’s desperation 3-pointer fell short with about one second left in the game.  Although sophomore Adam Sharabi tracked down the rebound and put in a lay-up before time expired, it wasn’t enough to send the match into overtime.

The Firehawks had propelled themselves into school history just three days earlier by securing first place in their league for the first time, which may have been why anticipation of this year’s game seemed to somehow surpass that of previous match-ups.

An hour after Shabbat ended, Shalhevet fans began churning in to watch their team take an early 8-2 lead after the Firehawks’ defense forced a couple of Panther turnovers.  The run was highlighted by senior Shay Alkoby’s long 3-pointer in front of the Panthers’ bench, which raised virtually every Firehawk fan to their feet in exclamation.

“I give Shalhevet a lot of credit; they came out and played really hard,” said Panther starter Jack Gindi.  “They put up a great fight and I hope to see some more in years to come.”

The Panthers rode a 7-2 run of their own to end the 1st quarter down 10-9 to the Firehawks, who were officially the “home team,” even though the court was neither teams’ usual home floor.

Students from every grade gathered during the 2nd period to participate in organized cheers that filled the gym with yelling and excitement throughout the rest of the game.  Only at halftime did YULA’s section fill up enough to contend with the size and passion of the Firehawk fan-base.

“I really wanted to make sure that we gave our team all the support we could,” said senior Jeremy Lowe, who kept Firehawk supporters on their feet throughout the game.  “I knew they were prepared to win this year.”

At the end of the first half, the scoreboard showed a 26-25 Shalhevet lead after freshman Jojo Fallas drained a jumper from a few feet behind the 3-point line.  Thrilled fans poured onto the court to celebrate the largely successful start to the match.

Both teams came out of the locker room with a flurry of scoring to start the 3rd quarter.  After Jojo’s second 3-pointer of the period, the Firehawks found themselves with a seemingly-comfortable 39-32 advantage.

But in the next few minutes of play, the Panthers dug their claws deep into the lead, eventually tying the contest at 39 after starter Zack Finder netted a 3.  He then knocked down a jumper to give YULA their first lead of the half.

The score at the end of third was 44-39, YULA, meaning that the Panthers mounted a 12-0 run to end the quarter.

After three minutes of the final period were gone, Firehawk coach Ronnie “Flava” Winbush called time-out with his team down 47-39.  Starter Yossi Halpert and Jojo came up big, each burying a three of his own to cut the deficit to 48-45.  Yossi drained another jumper to bring Shalhevet within 1.

Panther Josh Weireb and Firehawk Joey Chowaiki then traded three’s, and with one minute left, YULA was clinging onto a 51-50 lead.

The Firehawk defense forced YULA to put up a desperation shot to avoid a shot-clock violation, but the offense turned the ball over back to the Panthers with 8 seconds to go.

Jojo intentionally fouled Finder to create an extra possession for the Firehawks, and the Panther put both free-throws through the hoop.  This set the stage for Shay’s desperation shot to end the game.

“We felt strong and confident, but YULA went on a run 15-0 that broke us down a little.  But we kept fighting,” said Alkoby. “The last shot was a desperate turnaround-fade-away 30-footer with three seconds left; I didn’t really even have time to think about it.”