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The Final(s) Countdown PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 06 March 2014 05:05

Take Two — Julian Richardson (left) and the rest of the El Camino Real High basketball team get a second chance
to defeat Westchester in the City Section Division I championship game. Tipoff is 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, at Los
Angeles Southwest College.

El Camino Real, Sylmar Have A Shot At Winning City Basketball Titles This Weekend

So now it has come to this, the last stop on the City Section boys’ basketball season. The “Survivors” here are not contestants on a reality show — this is just reality, the joy and despair of one-and-done playoff basketball having whittled the 2013- 14 season to its gripping and tumultuous finale. Two Valley area teams have made it to the last stop.

Sylmar will play Garfield of Los Angeles for the Division II championship on Friday, March 7, at 8 p.m. at the Roybal Learning Center. On Saturday, March 8, El Camino Real will play Westchester of Los Angeles for the Division I championship at 8 p.m. at Los Angeles Southwest College.

Both Sylmar and El Camino Real have been strongly motivated to redeem disappointing finishes to last season. The Spartans (23-11) expected to reach the Division II finals last year, but were upended in the semifinals by Gardena.

The 49-48 loss stayed onto Coach Bort Escoto’s psyche like a bad rash. Now that Sylmar is in the 2014 finals after dispatching Poly, 63-54, in a semifinal game at Kennedy High on Monday, March 3, Escoto is eager to dispel any remaining painful memories.

“It took a long time to get back to the City championship,” said Escoto, who coached Sylmar to its only boys’ basketball title in 1998. “I’m gonna enjoy it.” The semifinal should have been played on Feb. 28. But heavy rains caused some minor leaks in the Kennedy High gym, and the game was rescheduled for Monday. Escoto said the delay was actually a break for his team.

“I’m actually kinda glad we didn’t play on Friday because it gave one of our players a chance to heal,” the coach said. “Had we played on Friday, (guard) Dion Bright (who had a twisted ankle) would not have been able to play.

That helped us.” The championship is not a given. Garfield (19-12) showed grit and resiliency in overcoming an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Granada Hills in Monday’s other semifinal at Kennedy.

The Bulldogs have a talented forward in Stevie Williams, a junior, who sank five threepointers and scored 19 points against the Highlanders. “Well, Poly had two kids (Cesar Reyes and Sal Gonzalez) who had nice three-point shots.

I’d rather have to deal with one than with two, like we did with Poly,” Escoto said. “[But] Garfield is not bashful about shooting. And there are no bad teams at this point; everyone is good right now. No one is going to dominate. If you’re in a championship game, it means you’re in it for a reason.

” Besides, Sylmar has a big ace in the hole — 6-8 forward/center Devinir Duruisseau, a senior who, when paired with 6-4 senior Malcolm Wadlow, gives the Spartans a definitive height advantage on the inside. So while Sylmar also loves taking threepoint shots, Escoto hinted that he might give Duruisseau more inside opportunities against Garfield. “Devin is the best ‘big man’ in the City.

I’ve got him, I might as well use him,” Escoto said. The 10 seniors on the Conquistadors’ roster have a title to their credit, winning the Division II title as sophomores in 2011. Last year they played for the Division I title against Westchester of Los Angeles, and lost a close decision, 65-59, a game that got away from ECR in the final four minutes. Both teams had to grind out their semifinal wins last weekend at Los Angeles Southwest College.

El Camino Real (24-6) beat back Fairfax of Los Angeles, 51-41, while Westchester (28-5) held off Narbonne of Harbor City, 62-58. Meaning the Conquistadors will once again find the Comets in their path for the title.

This season, though, has been a rigorous one for ECR, having already faced a slew of top teams including Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, Serra of Gardena, Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, Lone Peak of Highland, Utah and Chino Hills.

That schedule, a senior-heavy roster, and the fact the Conquistadors are playing in a third straight City championship game could make the lights feel less bright on Saturday. “I think this year was not difficult because we had seniors who were willing to buy into the system I wanted and being accountable for things,” said first year Coach Joe Wyatt. “It is tough to get back, we’re blessed to go three in a row now.

I think this year, for us….having played tough tournaments and played tough teams in nonleague schedule, I hope it has prepared us for this game.” This year’s Westchester team is a bit different from last year’s team, Wyatt said, But that doesn’t make the Comets any less formidable. “They play extremely hard. It’s what they do,” he said.

“They’re hungry and they have a coach in Ed Azzam who’s always going to championship games. This is nothing new for them.

“They don’t do anything different. [But] last year it was five guys in and five guys out; that is how deep they were. You couldn’t get in a rhythm against them. This year they have 2-3 guys that shoot really well. They’ll be ready.” So will ECR, Wyatt said.

“To win, we have to be mentally tough and execute. They are seniors now. There may be a time we’re down in the game, but we still must set a course and do what we have to do to win. Everybody is playing well, no egos, and playing hard.

“This is what you play the game for — a championship. If you’re not ready for this game, you won’t be ready for any others. I don’t want them nervousor scared. Just ready to go.”

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 19:20

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