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LA South: Division 3A, No. 4 Damien 52, No. 5 Bonita 44

LA VERNE -- The tight-knit community had to pick a side Tuesday night.

Whom to cheer for? The No. 4-seeded Damien Spartans? The No. 5-seeded Bonita Bearcats? And, perhaps most important, what to wear? Both schools use green as a primary color.

La Verne residents couldn't dodge this one. Damien's campus sits on the corner of Damien Avenue and -- you guessed it -- Bonita Avenue. Turn right on Bonita and take it for a mile until you hit D Street. Make a left and, poof, you've made the quick jump, er, trip from one campus to the other.

Calling this a battle for city bragging rights wouldn't do it justice.

When the dust settled, Sierra League champion Damien (26-3) emerged victorious, 52-44, and advanced to next week's CIF Southern Section Division 3A semifinals. With Hacienda League champion Bonita (26-4) eliminated, the small town of 30,000 figures to follow the Spartans wherever they go next.

"It's a really respectful rivalry," Damien coach Matt Dunn said. "I know we have the utmost respect for them and as a community, it's a lot of fun. We both play with the kids that come to our schools and I think that's what makes it special. This year we both happened to be very good."

On this night, Damien was just a tad bit better.

Bonita had the game's two leading scorers -- Jordan Butler had 15 and James Northup had 11 -- but Dunn had balance with seven of his players scoring at least six points. Clayton White and Gian Demano led the Spartans with nine each, J.P. Chakbazof and J.J. Pavia scored eight apiece.

Dunn's biggest player, though, left his mark late. Damien led by two with less than a minute to go when leading scorer Chris Reyes tipped in a miss. Half of the crowd went wild. You could finally distinguish who was rooting for the home team and who wasn't.

"That tip-in was big," Reyes said. "We needed to get a score right there."

If not, Reyes, who averaged 18 points per game during the season, would have heard it from Bonita's players for the rest of the year. He had a mere four points and one made basket before those heroics. His first shot attempt didn't come until midway through the second quarter. He finished with six points, nine rebounds and eight blocks.

His defense was his best offense.

"Reyes can change the game a lot of ways," Dunn said. "I thought he did a good job of keep playing."

Butler did what he could to bring Bonita back from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter, sinking a three and nailing a pair of free throws to make it a two-point game. Center Garrett Pendleton, also Bonita's top quarterback, fouled out with 2:50 to go, leaving a massive void up front. There was no one there to box out Reyes when it mattered. Bonita suffered its first loss since Dec. 30.

"This is kind of what you do this for, to see the kids in an environment like this," Dunn said. "I'm really excited for our guys. It's disappointing that we had to (play Bonita) in the quarterfinals because I think they're really good. Just a special night all together."

Reyes, a junior, said he had never seen such strong support from the community. Damien's hostile student section, named "The Pit," began a "Start the buses!" chant when the game was no longer in doubt.

At least Bonita and its fans had a short ride home.