The Chargers' quest for a CIF Championship falls short. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

In a raucous and electric Sovine Gymnasium, the visiting Western Pioneers’ star senior Ahmad Hammouri proved too much to handle for the Dos Pueblos Chargers, who were defeated 65-49 in the CIF-SS Division 4A Championship Game — the school’s first trip to the finals since 1995, when the team finished as 3A runners-up.

Dos Pueblos Head Coach Joe Zamora had hoped to clinch the school’s first title since 1990, and heading into Friday night’s game, he knew the team had to stop Western’s leading scorer to do so. 

In the first two quarters, the Chargers were able to stifle the sharpshooter, who made just two out of nine from behind the three point mark. Dos Pueblos junior Grant Hughes was a force in the game, lighting up the crowd with 10 hard-earned first half points, while senior Kael Rillie contributed nine to send the Chargers into the break up 22-21.

Coach Zamora’s halftime message: make sure the defense knew where Hammouri was at all times. But the 6’3’’ wingman caught fire, dropping 10 in the third quarter while the Pioneers slowly built a lead. His buzzer-beating fadeaway three at the end of the quarter took the air out of the home crowd and changed the momentum of the game heading into the final frame.

Then the floodgates opened, and the Pioneers continued to build their lead by hitting big shots each time Dos Pueblos seemed to build some momentum. Hammouri and senior guard Thomas Dinh combined for 10 three pointers, with nine coming in the second half alone.

“They just kept making shots and they kept getting open,” Hughes said. “They were on fire and we couldn’t stop it.” With five minutes left in the game, two back-to-back Hammouri baskets put the Chargers behind 50-36. 

Dos Pueblos came within 10 with three minutes left, but by then the damage had been done, and Hammouri nailed seven out of eight free throws to seal the game 65-49.

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“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Zamora. “But these guys have battled and I’m so proud of them. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort and the things that they’ve done — not only on the court but off the court in the community.”

Zamora said his team is still keeping it’s eyes on next week’s state tournament, and though they didn’t get the win, this year has done wonders for the Dos Pueblos basketball community. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had that opportunity,” he said. Hughes led the Chargers with 20 points, while Rillie dropped 11 points in the loss.

Hammouri finished with 35 points, sinking six three pointers in the victory, and Dinh finished with 16. Together the two combined for 40 out of Western’s 44 second half points

“It feels so good to be winning CIF,” Hammouri said. Despite starting off cold, he said that he always maintains his confidence from beyond the arc. “If I miss one shot I just keep shooting and thinking about the next one. I just keep on shooting and shooting, it doesn’t matter if I miss.”

Fourth year Western head coach Marc Harrison said he’s proud to have watched his star senior grow into the player he is today.

“He has grown every step of the way,” Harrison said. “He was a junior high kid in my P.E. class, and I didnt even know how good he was. His ninth grade year he was okay, then sophomore year he started every game and just kept getting better and better and better. He believes in himself, the kids believe in him, and it’s just amazing what he’s capable of;  he’s got big things ahead of him.”

As for the win, Harrison says it’s been a “surreal ride” from his first years at Western — winning only twelve games over two seasons — to reaching the quarterfinal in 2021 and winning the title this year. “If you would’ve told me that when we first started I would’ve never believed you. The kids did what they were asked to do this year, and it was just an amazing ride.”

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