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Ida Baker boys rebound, down Evangelical Christian, 68-61

By CJ HADDAD - | Jan 26, 2022

Ida Baker senior Ishmael Hajmoussa sunk 23 points during the Bulldogs' 68-61 win against against Evangelical Christian School Tuesday night. MICHAEL PISTELLA mpistella@breezenewspapers.com

The Ida Baker boys basketball team showed its resilience Tuesday night as the Bulldogs defeated a feisty Evangelical Christian School squad 68-61 on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Bulldogs (12-6, 3-1 in 5A-11) pulled out the win on their home court after their eight-game winning streak came to an end Monday in a nail biter versus the 3A-8 leader in Gateway.

Seniors Ishmael Hajmoussa and Kenny Petit turned in double-double performances and four Bulldogs in total reached double-digit scoring nights.

Ida Baker head coach Todd Stowe said he was proud of his team for rebounding strong and not letting the bump in the road deter their focus.

“We knew coming in that ECS was a very scrappy team,” Stowe said. “We just had to keep our control. These are games we would have lost in the past, but we’re playing very good team basketball right now.”

Hajmoussa, a senior captain for the Bulldogs who has had the hot hand in recent weeks, continued his stellar play from the start and had a big first few minutes. The Sentinels (12-10) answered back though, and trailed by only two points after the first eight minutes.

Ida Baker turned up the heat in the second quarter, one the team controlled for the majority of play. The Bulldogs started hitting from deep (eight made three-pointers for the game) and provided a stout defensive effort highlighted by the play of senior Bryan Alvarez.

The Bulldogs carried a 10-point lead into the half and when the fourth quarter started, maintained a 56-47 advantage.

The final stanza got a bit interesting as ECS cut the Bulldog lead to six with five minutes left and then to four with 4 minutes left.

Hajmoussa, who finished with a team-high 23 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four steals, showed his leadership in the final moments to compose his teammates, and knocked down a pair of free throws with under a minute left to keep the Sentinels out of reach.

“His leadership has grown tenfold over the last two years,” Stowe said of Hajmoussa, who played every minute of the game. “He had time as a sophomore to soak things up and he has. There have been games where he has literally put the team on his back, and they respect him. The way he’s progressed as an athlete is just awesome to see.”

A pair of charges taken by two Bulldog defenders down the stretch also shifted the momentum in favor of the home team.

“Over the last couple of years, the team has made it a mission to improve (defensively). Bryan Alvarez doesn’t care about scoring — he cares about how much skin he’s leaving on the floor. He’s diving after the loose balls and making plays that lead to turnovers and to points. He’s an unsung hero.

“And all of our guys give it their all. They’re not afraid to go up and get a little contact.”

Petit finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, senior Chris Roman dropped 12 while adding a game-high nine assists and three rebounds, and senior Bryant Sperduti contributed 10 points (3 of 5 from deep) and three boards.

ECS freshman Austin Leslie scored a game-high 26 points with seven rebounds.

The Bulldogs are currently No. 2 in 5A-11 and should hold that position heading into districts in early February. Stowe said down the stretch they’ll be working on polishing their playbook and crafting a more organized setup.

“I’d like to see us run some offense a little more,” Stowe said. “We know we can get to the rim quick. There are definitely some situational things to work on, but don’t sleep on us.”

Ida Baker next travels to district opponent Cape Coral (10-11, 2-1 in 5A-11) Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

— Connect with Associate Sports Editor CJ Haddad on Twitter: @haddad_cj