By Jeremy Balan
Behind 26 points from senior point guard Robert Chiu, Leadership High School jumped out to an early lead and withstood several late rallies from International High School to secure a 67-60 victory in the semifinal round of the Bay Counties Central boys basketball playoffs on Thursday at Kezar Pavilion.
“We knew it was a big game,” Chiu said. “We had to come out and play, because it’s one loss and you’re out.”
Chiu had seven points and several key assists in the first quarter, to help the Griffins (12-12, 8-2) build an early 20-10 lead.
“He’s our leader, no doubt,” said Leadership Head Coach George Adkins. “He’s a four-year starter and our team leader in scoring, assists and steals. He’s our heart and soul. If he plays well, we play well.”
Second-seeded Leadership never trailed against International (7-15, 7-3), in an often-sloppy game that featured 28 turnovers for each team and 55 total free throws.
“In the playoffs, you have to put the ball in the hole and not turn the ball over,” said International Head Coach Rob Rafeh. “Even though we have five seniors, experience-wise, we’re very young and we showed that early.”
Leadership opened up a 28-14 lead midway through the second quarter and International made several runs, cutting the lead to 53-48 with 3:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Leadership held off the Jaguars every time they threatened.
“We got into a hole early and every time we would get close, they would go on a run and we would be right back where we started from,” Rafeh said.
International senior forward Armand Gray had a game-high 29 points in the loss, carrying the load for Jaguars offensively despite constantly being pressured and double-teamed by the Griffin defense.
“It’s hard to say goodbye,” Rafeh said of Gray, who likely played his last game for the Jaguars. “I’m proud of how he played tonight. He left it all on the floor and that’s all I can really ask for.”
Leadership also received solid performances from sophomores Francisco Chacon and Dontaz Combs.
Chacon had 10 second-quarter points and finished with 17 total, while Combs finished with 14 points and was a consistent presence on the boards.
With the win, the Griffins advance to the league finals on Saturday against top-seeded Waldorf High School (16-6, 9-1), which defeated Gateway High School 47-37 in the other semifinal game on Thursday.
Leadership and Waldorf split their two matchups this season, but in the Waldorf win on Jan. 14, Chiu did not play.
Even though the Griffins beat Waldorf 47-40 on Feb. 5, Adkins knows the final won’t be easy.
“They are an impressive team,” Adkins said of Waldorf. “They really move the ball well. We use them as an example on film in pregame preparations.”