Bishop comes up short in CIF hoops final

By Jim Carlisle
PresidioSports.com Correspondent

Bishop Diego and Valley Torah tip-off at Mater Dei High School on Saturday night. (John Robitaille Photo)

SANTA ANA — Bishop Diego High’s coronation turned into a bar mitzvah for Valley Torah.

The Cardinals saw a 12-point first-quarter lead evaporate in the fourth as Valley Torah’s Wolfpack roared back to win 58-51 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6AA final Saturday night at Mater Dei High.

Valley Torah, a school of just 83 students in Valley Village, became the first orthodox Jewish school to win a CIF-SS title, improving its record to 22-4. Bishop Diego’s Cardinals finished 22-8.

It was a bitter defeat. Bishop Diego bolted to a 15-3 first-quarter lead and made Valley Torah look completely overmatched, thanks to seven points by Noah Tack. The Cardinals led 17-7 after the first period.

But Valley Torah showed it was deserving of its berth in the final, scoring the first six points of the second quarter. Two layups were put in by 6-9 forward Aaron Lieberman. A pair of free throws by Yosef Grundman pulled the Wolfpack to within two points at 22-20 with 2:22 left in the half. They outscored the Cardinals 16-10 in the quarter, but Bishop Diego managed to hold onto a 27-23 lead at halftime. Grundman scored 12 of Valley Torah’s 23 first-half points.

The Cardinals managed to increase their lead to 41-35 after the third quarter with seven points from Tack, who finished with 18 points.

But in the fourth quarter, it all fell apart. The Wolfpack outscored their opposition 23-10, including an 11-0 run that spanned 4:13 and didn’t end until there were only 27 seconds left in the game.

“We had a lot of turnovers down the stretch,” said first-year Bishop Diego coach Dean Prophet. “We didn’t hit free throws. We made some stupid fouls. The kids are young. They played hard in the second half and we just didn’t get it done.”

Valley Torah took its first lead on a basket by Nathaniel Liberman with 2:27 remaining. The Cards’ Johnny Diaz came away from the play with a gash on top of his head and had to leave the game. Nathaniel Cohen followed with another basket a half-minute later and Valley Torah never looked back.

Prophet was asked if his team could possibly have taken its opponent for granted, being so small in enrollment.

“Oh, no,” the coach replied. “There’s no way we took them lightly. They’ve been ahead of us in the polls the whole season. We knew they were a good team. We did a good job defending (Aaron Liberman), but (Grundman) killed us. We had no idea he was going to play like that.”

Aaron Liberman finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots for Valley Torah. Grundman led the Wolfpack with 17 points. Behind Tack in scoring for Bishop Diego was Elias Munoz with 12 points. Reese Moulton had six rebounds.

Prophet said his team is young and has a chance to build on the experience.

“It was great getting this far,” he said. “I have a lot of juniors; I started three juniors; I have some juniors coming off the bench. So hopefully, they saw what it takes to win the game and hopefully next year, they’ll translate that into their game.”

VALLEY TORAH (58) — Grundman 17, Cohen 2, A. Liberman 15, Hardy 5, Tzion 4, N. Liberman 15.
BISHOP DIEGO (51) — Tisdale 2, Garcia 6, Diaz 2, Munoz 12, Kwock 5, Moulton 6, Tack 18.
Valley Torah ….. 7 16 12 23 — 58
Bishop Diego …. 17 10 14 10 — 51

Records — Valley Torah 22-4, Bishop Diego 22-8.