Last Update: Thursday, May 23, 2013
|Conquistadors Overrun in Title Game|
|Written by Mike Terry|
|Thursday, 07 March 2013 07:16|
Westchester Denies ECR The City Boys' Basketball Division I Championship
He Gone - El Camino Real guard Maleke Haynes (22) leads a fastbreak while Westchester defenders Cameron Young (11) and Myles Stewart (25) trail the action during the City Division I boys' basketball playoffs.
Until the last five minutes of the fourth quarter it had been a storybook season for the El Camino Real boys basketball team; 28 wins in its first year playing in Division I, uprooting Taft to win the West Valley League championship, the second seed in the Division I playoffs and a strong, competitive showing against Los Angeles Westchester in the Los Angeles City Section title game.
But there is a difference in being of championship caliber, and having championship pedigree.
Westchester, the top seed, had won 11 Division I titles. El Camino Real won its first City title last year – in Division II.
And in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter last Saturday, March 2, at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the Westchester pedigree was superior to ECR's dreams. The Comets, trailing 51-49 in the final four minutes, went on a defining 10-0 spurt to take a lead it would not give back and go on to a 65-59 victory.
To their credit, the Conquistadors (28-3) had never rolled over for any team in its first year in Division I – they had won 22 straight leading up to the Westchester game – and after a tentative start, which had them trailing 32-26 after the first half, they dug in defensively and played the Comets pretty evenly the rest of the game.
El Camino Real would tie the score at 32 on a three-point shot by Julian Richardson, and go ahead 34-33 on a pair of free throws by Maleke Haynes with 3:25 left in the third quarter. From then on, the game went from run-and-gun to a grind-itout contest. Neither team took a step back or gave up a free look defensively.
ECR took its last lead, 51-49 on two Haynes free throws at the 4:26 mark of the fourth quarter. But then Westchester (28-6) put on that final, crucial 10-point burst and El Camino Real – which had been guilty of some dubious passing and shot selection at various other points in the game – could not respond.
ECR Coach Dave Rebibo wasn't ready to concede that Westchester's vast title game experience might have made the difference. To him, it was a simple matter of X's and O's.
"We turned the ball over. And when you turn the ball over and don't rebound, you don't get chances to score," Rebibo said. "That's what it really came down to. Every time they needed a play, they got an offensive rebound and a putback.
And we turned the ball over when we needed it the most. That's part of the game, part of the learning process. We'll learn from this and get better from it."
Flyin' High - El Camino Real guard Julian Richard gets clearance over a Westchester defender to score a basket. Westchester went on to defeat ECR for the City Division I boys' basketball title.
Comets Coach Ed Azzam argued at first that this Westchester team has "never been here before (to the finals). I've been here but they haven't been." But he added, "The tradition and the expectations are there. And I just think they've shown a lot of heart. As I said before, they don't worry about who gets what.
They're just playing." Richardson had 13 points for El Camino Real. Kelton Conway had 12, and Michael Thomas added 10.
The Comets were led by Darnell Brown with 12 points, followed by Matthew Grant with 11 and Elijah Stewart with 10. The ECR-Westchester contest was one of five City title games involving Valley area teams. Here is a look back at a busy basketball weekend.
Girls' Division II
Granada Hills 51, Los Angeles Westchester 43 (OT) Granada Hills Coach Lou Cicciari had been unhappy for weeks on how his team was playing and preparing for the upcoming playoffs. He just wasn't sure if he should tell the players.
After all, the Highlanders (22- 8) had finished second in the West Valley League, earned the third seed in the playoffs and had easily defeated Belmont in the first round.
But something was missing. Cicciari – a Granada Hills grad who was the boys' team manager when they won the 3A title in 1976, and an assistant boys' coach when they won in 1987 – felt his girls' team wasn't taking things seriously enough. That practice had become too frivolous and unfocused, and the Highlanders wouldn't go much further in the postseason if things didn't change.
"I'd talked to the girls several times during the season that I felt they were capable of winning City," Cicciari said. "But kids are kids. Sometimes they don't truly understand what it takes to win, how hard it is.
"I wasn't sure if I should have told them how I really felt. But if I don't say it and we don't achieve the goal [of winning the title] I would always wonder. We would sink or swim (by his decision). But I laid out those things that were bothering me."
The Highlanders responded the way Cicciari hoped, winning their first basketball championship since 1992 and third overall. They won the title on Friday, March 1, at Los Angeles Roybal Learning Center, against an aggressive Comets team that tried to make up for its spotty field goal and free throw shooting with a swarming pressure defense, and trying to run Granada Hills into submission.
But the Highlanders ultimately foiled Westchester's plans with patience and resiliency. Granada Hills had jumped out to a 10-5 lead after the first quarter, confusing Westchester with pinpoint passing against the Comets' fullcourt press. But once the Comets realized that senior guard Kristi Nishida was the Highlander's best dribbler, they concentrated on pinning her deep in the backcourt, forcing her to pass to a less confident ballhandler or throw the ball away.
Westchester took the lead at the half, 19-18, and expanded it to 29- 24 in the third quarter. They had one more five-point lead in the fourth quarter, 35-30, with 2:18 to play. But Granada Hills forward Danielle Ward had taken over the inside, both in scoring and rebounding. And the Highlanders were also getting timely production from Jenny Cuadra and Teja Reaves, who each scored nine points.
Ward tied the game at 36-all on a layup with 38.8 seconds to play. The Highlanders got the ball back with 11.4 seconds remaining, but Nishida could only get off a desperation heave that missed everything at the buzzer to end regulation.
Overtime, however, proved to be the perfect place for the Highlanders to be. Granada Hills had played four other overtime games during the season and won them all. And even though the Comets substitute their players liberally and often, they looked like the more tired team in the extra four-minute session.
The game would be tied one last time, 43-43. Granada Hills then scored the final eight points in the last 1:03 of the game.
"During the game I was a little worried," Nishida said.
"Westchester really came at us. But I'm so proud of my teammates. I didn't think I was going to cry but I am."
"The most important thing I think was, when they got that (fourth quarter) lead, we stayed patient. What they wanted us to do was get all out of sorts and throw the ball away. And when they pressured me, I had to trust my teammates that they could do it themselves. If they're going to have 2-3 players go at me, my teammates are open, right?"
Especially Ward, who finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds. If she wasn't on some college scout's list before the game, she was afterward.
"No one could stop Danielle inside tonight," Cicciari said. And thankfully, from the Granada Hills' perspective, nobody stopped Cicciari from the risk of disrupting the Highlanders' collective psyche to speak his peace – and raise their game.
Ahteana Jones led Westchester with 17 points.
Boys' Division II
Gardena 55, Kennedy 47 Kennedy is going to win a basketball title some day. But they may have to get past the Marine League first.
Gardena (17-13) was the latest team from that league to end a Golden Cougars season. And was a most painful defeat, coming in a championship game on Friday, March 1, at Roybal Learning Center.
But, perhaps, not a surprise. Kennedy had been eliminated in the first or second round the past three years by Los Angeles King Drew, San Pedro and Harbor City Narbonne.
Fortunately there are only two Marine League teams left – Wilmington Banning and Los Angeles Washington.
Kennedy (27-7) seemed ready to break the jinx in the first quarter, bolting to a 10-2 lead. But there was a new wrinkle to these championship games – they were being broadcast live on television, and with the broadcasts came automatic timeouts near or at the 4:00 mark of each quarter.
Gardena got the timeout at 3:55. It seemed to settle down the Panthers, who tied the game, 12- 12, by the end of the quarter. By the end of the half they were leading, 23-19, and the Cougars were trying to figure out why their early energy had dissipated.
"I think the momentum changed halfway through the first quarter, when they made that run that tied the game," Kennedy Coach Kevin Kanemura said. The situation grew worse.
Gardena forward Dushone Brown (18 points) had three consecutive layups to stretch the Panthers' lead to 29-22 in the third quarter, which forced the Cougars into "chase" mode. Increasing the tempo did not put Kennedy into a good rhythm, and it wasn't able to sustain enough offense to carve deeply into Gardena's lead.
The Panthers ended the third quarter up 38-30. They actually went cold in the fourth quarter, making only three baskets. But they were all three-point shots, and all made a difference.
The first was by Brown, who banked in a prayer as the shot clock expired. When Kennedy put on its last key rally, going on an 8- 0 run to close within 41-40 with 3:41 left to play, Gardena guard Tyree Simmons followed with a trey to stunt the building excitement on the Cougars bench.
Brown delivered the dagger, a three-pointer with 1:50 to play, and followed that up 30 seconds later with a pair of free throws to put the Panthers safely ahead, 49- 41.
He's an inside and outside player," Gardena Coach Anthony Hilliard said of Brown, a 6-4 senior. "It was a great performance by him."
Kanemura was frustrated by the outcome, but philosophical. "Our kids gave me effort. They always give me effort," Kanemura said. "But we didn't do very well with our execution tonight. [Gardena] played harder."
It was the second title for the Panthers, who won the 2005 Invitational championship. This championship, a Division title, has a little more shine and respect.
Dom Vargas finished with 18 points and Chris Gonzalez 14 for Kennedy
Girls' Division III
Reseda 69, Eagle Rock 65 Coach Brittany Henderson wouldn't say if she was aware of any outside chirping from outsiders whether the Reseda girls' team was merely a supporting act for her sister Ahlisha, a senior and starting center; of how having her father Joe and sister Tiffany on her coaching staff would give Ahlisha free reign to do what she wanted; of how it could be destructive to team chemistry; of how it would be impossible to win in the playoffs.
Henderson had to know she, her father and her siblings would have been easy targets for such criticism if the Regents had lost to Eagle Rock. But they didn't, holding off the Eagles in a riveting contest on Saturday, March 2, at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Ahlisha would do for Reseda (21-5) what she had done all season: put up some mega-numbers – 31 points, 27 rebounds and five blocks – while combating a defensive strategy to surround and collapse around herevery time she got the ball.
But there was help from other Regents. Crystal Ortega had 20 points while also running the offense as the point guard, and trying to defensively slow down Eagle guards Judith Espinoza and Vanessa Encinas despite four fouls. Role players like Shayla Washington, Kassandra Anguiano, Adriana Guajardo, Jocelyn Huerta and Ariza Quinones all contributed when the moment called for a key basket or a needed defensive stop.
"I think we've proved we are a team and it does take more than one person," Coach Henderson said. "We needed others to step up. Crystal has always been another person to put the ball in the basket and get the team in order. You need pieces to complete a puzzle.
"Ahlisha will do what she's doing and that's incredible for us. But Kassandra changed the game with her defense and hit baskets at a crucial point of the game. Shayla, who is very athletic, was huge and brought energy.
Jocelyn fouled out, but she hit a huge three for us and she gets extra rebounds. It felt rewarding not to just win but showcase everyone, to show we are a complete and well-rounded team."
Reseda needed all hands on deck because Espinoza (33 points) and Encinas (16 points) kept Eagle Rock in it literally by themselves. It was apparent that backcourt tandem had the blessing of Eagles Coach Mark Kramer to run at will and shoot whenever they wanted; that approval was deserved.
But Eagle Rock (20-6), like others this season, never figured out how to keep Ahlisha – broad and sturdy at 6-feet-3 – off the boards and out of the middle.
"It was so hard to get rebounds; we had to work so hard on every possession," Kramer said. "It was harder than I thought it would be.
"We played against [Ahlisha] two years ago; she was a beast then. She's an amazing player; she's got great feet, she keeps moving. You can't simulate her in practice. We had ideas of what we wanted to do against her.
Unfortunately most of them didn't work out."
Reseda started slowly, trailing 13-7 after the first quarter. But the Regents outscored the Eagles in the second quarter, 27-18, led by three at the half, and geared themselves toward dominating Eagle Rock in the second half.
It never happened. Although outmanned (outwomened?) in size and strength, the Eagles battled tenaciously. They were only down 49-45 after three quarters, and still didn't quit even when Reseda established its biggest lead, 56-46, with a little more than five minutes to play.
Encinas had a chance to tie the game at 67-all, but missed a three-pointer with 55 seconds to play.
Ahlisha, who spent a long time holding and hugging the championship trophy afterward, said she expected a close game. "We had to play hard to beat them two years ago to get to the championship game, which we lost. They probably felt they should have been there instead of us," she said.
"I know they were going to give us a game. I wanted to see how we would respond to it. We didn't respond well in the beginning but we gave them a fight at the end."
Boys' Division III
Hamilton 53, Poly 51 All you need to know about this contest, which took place on Saturday, March 2, at Cal State Dominguez, is what happened in the last 14.5 seconds.
Never mind the fact that Poly (19-8), the upstart co-East Valley League champion who came into the playoffs as a bit of a mystery, played unafraid for more than three quarters against Los Angeles Hamilton (16-14), a team better than its record thanks to its weekly tough battles in the Western League.
Don't pay attention – although you should – to the marvelous shooting exhibition put on by Parrot sophomore guard Cesar Reyes, who made seven three pointers (in nine attempts) en route to a game high 23 points before fouling out with 1:42 to play.
And forget (although Poly fans probably won't anytime soon) the Panthers had built up a 32-21 halftime lead, and still led by nine points, 42-33, when the fourth quarter started. And even though most of that lead had leaked away, the Parrots were still in to win their first boys' basketball championship since 1999.
Until those last fateful 14.5 seconds, when Hamilton ripped the title away and broke the Poly hearts.
Yankees forward Jaffrey Stillman tied the game on a layup with two seconds to play and was fouled. He could have put Hamilton ahead with a free throw, but missed. Poly rebounded the missed shot and called timeout with 1.5 seconds left.
This is where it got crazy. Poly forward Mario Castaneda, underneath the Yankees basket, tried to throw the ball down the court. But the high pass struck an American flag hanging from the rafters, and dropped straight down to the floor.
By rule the play was declared an out-of-bounds violation. Since the ball was not advanced, Hamilton got the ball under its own basket with the 1.5 seconds. That's all the time the Yankees needed to sneak an inbounds pass to Brandon Lewis, who made the winning layup as time expired.
"You can only dream about [winning like] that," Hamilton Coach Mark Mizuno said. "Just for the kid to do that, to make a shot at the end like that, is unbelievable. But we never gave up, never gave up."
Poly could not have been anymore stunned than if it had been required to beat the Miami Heat for the title.
"It will be hard to forget," Poly Coach Alan Woskanian said. "But I only lose one senior in the starting lineup. They played hard, but it's a good lesson for them. You've got to close out games. You gotta settle down, the other team's coming at you.
"We kept trying to settle them down. But the momentum got to them a little bit. These are inexperienced kids, neighborhood kids. They're playing their hardest, and doing a great job. You can't take that away from them."
Ed. Note: All five Valley teams were among those selected for the CIF state boys' and girls' tournaments, and began playing in the Southern California Regional divisions on Wednesday, March 6, or Friday, March 8.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 07 March 2013 07:39|