By Andrew Smith
Linda Vista (3/8/2014) – Over the course of the weekend at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion only one team (Mission Hills) was able to shoot over forty percent from the field. Perhaps the worst shooting performance took place in the girls Open Division championship, which makes sense because it’s the toughest competition.
Bishops has been the top team in the county all season long, but Mater Dei held them to 4-for-32 (12.5%) shooting in the first half and led 26-18 at the break.
“We were too excited and took a lot of crazy shots,” freshman guard DESTINY LITTLETON said after scoring 17 points. “Once we starting sharing the ball and making the extra pass we really started to play our game.”
The Lady Knights came out of the locker room and scored on their first four possessions to tie the game up. They out-scored the Crusader 19-6 in the third and between IMANI LITTLETON‘s double-double and clutch free throws down the stretch they held on for a 53-47 victory.
“We played about the worst half ever,” said the St. John’s-bound senior after finishing with 16 points and 16 boards. “This means the world to me. I’ll definitely remember this one forever.”
Bishops never trailed in the fourth quarter and went 6-for-6 from the free throw line late in the game when the game was still in the balance.
“The girls play a game in practice were we shoot them and they just don’t miss,” said head coach MARLON WELLS. “I know it was an ugly, ugly win but I’ll take it all day long.”
Mater Dei: Kandiss Barber 26 (14 reb, 2 stl), Kristine Sellona 12 (6 reb, 3 stl), Kelsey Munoz 4 (5 reb, 1 ast), Olusola Smith 3 (10 reb, 1 stl), Onjalise Carley-Hillard 2, Jordan Brasfield (3 reb, 2 stl), McKenzie Johnson (3 reb, 2 stl)
Bishops: Destiny Littleton 17 (6 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl), Imani Littleton 16 (16 reb, 5 blk, 4 stl), Sierra Ducey 8 (6 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl), Alessandra Aguirre 6 (1 stl), Christina Frank 4 (1 stl), Layla Cunningham 2 (1 ast), Malea Casillas (2 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl)
By Andrew Smith
Linda Vista (3/7/2014) — Before Francis Parker even stepped onto the floor at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, they talked all week about it being an uphill battle against a much bigger Mater Dei Catholic team.
“We knew we were going to struggle on the boards with their big front-line,” said Parker head coach JIM TOMEY. “Sure we have 6-foot-10 EVAN FITZNER, but other than that we have a bunch of small guys running around out there.”
When it came down to it, the rebounding wasn’t as big a factor as they thought. Sure they were out-rebounded 47-33, but the Lancers held the taller Crusaders to thirty five percent from the field, but they went 15-of-51 (29%) themselves, costing them to falter 55-46 in the San Diego Section C.I.F. Division II championship game.
Year after year you see the surroundings of a bigger environment hurt teams that rely on outside shots. They play all their games in a similar sized high school gyms, but then in the finals – in a much bigger arena – everyone is either overwhelmed or forgets how to shoot.
Case in point…of the games combined 101 points, 46 were scored in the paint and 35 were tallied at the charity stripe. So only 20 were mid to long-range shots and Fitzner was the only one to connect from behind the arch. He did so twice and everyone else combined to go 0-for-24.
Mater Dei built a 31-22 halftime lead with 10 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points.
Parker came out of the locker room and made it a 33-29 game midway through the third quarter, but wouldn’t score again over a seven minute stretch as the Crusaders pushed to an 18-point lead.
“Give them all the credit,” said KHALEEL JENKINS after scoring 12 points. “They out-played us for a full four quarters.”
Fitzner ended with a game-high 16 points. He also had 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal, but even after winning his competition praised his game afterward.
“I knew he was a great, versatile player,” Mater Dei’s Robert Harris admitted. “He can shoot and guard you so I just wanted to contain him down low like our coaches talked about all week. Then if he caught fire from the outside we would adjust accordingly.”
Francis Parker: Evan Fitzner 16 (8 reb, 3 blk, 1 stl), Khaleel Jenkins 12 (4 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl), Andrew Cross 9 (4 reb, 2 stl), Michael Pelaiz (5 reb, 2 ast), Tim Harrison 2 (3 reb), Paulo Cruz (2 reb, 1 ast)
Mater Dei: Jaylen Hands 16 (6 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl), Robert Harris 13 (15 reb, 1 blk, 1 stl), Israel Seales 11 (5 reb, 3 blk, 1 stl), Johnathan Dutra 8 (3 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl), Iman Chatman 7 (5 reb, 1 ast, 3 stl), Spencer Vering (2 reb), Sebastian Kelley (2 reb)
Ever since last year’s Division IV semifinals loss to Mater Dei, Francis Parker’s senior captain EVAN FITZNER vowed two things…to get better and to get that bad taste out of his mouth.
There’s no doubt he’s grown to be a better player this season, but there was no chance of either happening unless the Lancers took care of business Tuesday night at home against a scrappy Steele Canyon team.
The Cougars can shoot the lights out if you let them, but behind a stifling defensive gem turned in by Parker they’ll get that chance again for revenge after claiming a 55-46 victory. That means they will face the Crusaders Friday night at University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion at 6pm for the Division II Championship.
“I’m so pumped up for Friday night,” Fitzner said after. “Ever since last year this is all I’ve been working toward.”
Steele Canyon was able to make a game out of it for three quarters – even though they were forced into 25 turnovers – by hitting timely three-pointers. Even though they were 6-of-8 from downtown, their hot shooting abandoned them down the stretch as Parker’s defense was suffocating.
“All our guys love to play defense and we kinda hang our hat on it,” said Lancers’s head coach JIM TOMEY. “When you have two hard-nosed physical teams it really just comes down to who can execute in the end.”
Parker held the Cougars to 1-of-10 from the field in the fourth quarter, but Steele also shot itself in the foot going 3-of-10 from the charity stripe as they entered the stanza down 46-41, but could only must five points in the last eight minutes.
Fitzner ended with a game-high 22 points, 8 boards, 1 steal, a pair of blocks and assists, but had to leave the game in the third quarter with a minor injury. With his 6-foot-10 presence inside the Lancers briefly lost the lead, but sophomore ANDREW “kris-krossover” CROSS made the Lancers’ fan “Jump” as he broke ankles left and right scoring 8 of his 13 points with some Allen Iverson type moves to the basket.
“Our coaches told me to take it at that point so I just listened to them,” said the sophomore guard. “But we won this game thanks to all my teammates. We really had to talk and communicate on defense and we work a lot on that in practice.”
MICHAEL PELAIZ was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field for 11 points, 4 dimes and 3 steals. Also with his hand in the cookie jar was KHALEEL JENKINS with 5 pilfers of his own to go with 7 points and three assists.
Steele Canyon: Zach Kissel 18 (6 reb, 1 stl), Aaron Pisiona 13 (2 reb, 1 ast), Dominick Wood-Anderson 7 (6 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk), Robert Teo 6 (1 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl), Dylan Hamlett 2 (11 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk), Tyler Gulino-Jones (2 reb), Tanner Perry (1 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl), ?? Newson (1 reb)
Francis Parker: Evan Fitzner 22 (8 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk), Andrew Cross 13 (3 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl), Michael Pelaiz 11 (3 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl), Khaleel Jenkins 7 (3 ast, 4 stl), Paulo Cruz 2 (1 reb, 1 ast), Jack Brady (1 reb)
By Andrew Smith
San Diego (1/20/2014) – Whenever a team is coming off a last second heart-breaking loss, especially to a rival, the biggest concern for a head coach is that his squad will come out flat in their next game. Fourth-ranked Torrey Pines head coach John Olive preached that point over and over to his Falcons before they took the court against No. 8 ranked Francis Parker on Monday night in the Martin Luther King Jr. Showcase but it was to no avail.
“I could see it in their eyes in warmups,” he said after losing to La Costa Canyon at the buzzer on a 3-pointer Friday night. “Those was absolutely no energy. Everyone was just going through the motions and you can’t do that on the road against a good team in front of a big crowd.”
The Lancers jumped all over Torrey from the tip. Six-foot-ten EVAN FITZNER threw his own block party with seven swats and scored 9 points in the first quarter and ten minutes into the game it was an 18-6 Parker lead, but after Olive ripped into his team in a timeout a light had switched and they went on to a dominating 62-51 victory.
“Coach Olive told us at that point that was exactly the way he thought we were gonna come out and play,” recalled Dominic Hovasse after finishing with 13 points. “They were switching everything so he changed up our offense a little to get better matchups in the post and that also opened up more room for our shooters.”
To say the plan worked would be an understatement as the Falcons responded with a 27-5 run to close out the first half with a 10 point lead. Jack Beach was the main culprit accounting for all 13 of his points in the second quarter with three of their six treys in the period and the lead grew to 21 points near the end of the third.
“I think we stopped playing as a team,” said sophomore ANDREW CROSS after netting 9 points in the loss. “The played get on the ball defense, but I think everyone really started worrying about getting their own points and that’s something we just can’t do.”
The St. Mary’s-bound star Fitzner ended with his usual line – 19 points, 13 boards, five steals and 8 big blocks, but San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher and his assistants were on hand to see a pair of sophomores in Torrey’s Brandon Cyrus and Parker’s TIM HARRISON, as well as his already landed recruit Trey Kell in the nightcap smoothly drop 37 in a 79-74 win over third-ranked La Costa Canyon.
“I think they both have a lot of potential in their game,” Fisher said. “They’re both long and athletic which makes them intriguing prospects.”
Cyrus had a team-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Harrison had 12 on 8 shots as well and also drained a triple. Both ended with 5 rebounds as well.
Torrey Pines: Brandon Cyrus 14 (5 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl), Dominic Hovasse 13 (3 reb, 2 stl), Sam Worman 13 (1 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl), Jack Beach 10 (1 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl), Zach Wagner 5 (3 reb, 3ast, 3 stl), Connor Mimoe 4 (4 reb, 1 ast, 2 stl)
Francis Parker: Evan Fitzner 19 (13 reb, 5 ast, 1 stl, 7 blk), Tim Harrison 12 (5 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk), Andrew Cross 9 (4 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl), Khaleel Jenkins 6 (7 reb, 1 ast), Michael Pelaiz 5 (2 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl)
By Andrew Smith
Clairemont (1/18/2014) – Before facing off in the Martin Luther King Showcase on Saturday night the last time Foothills Christian and Horizon met on the court was in last year’s C.I.F. Division V championship game at Cox Arena. The Panthers won that game 53-37 to claim their second victory of the season against the Knights and that’s hasn’t been soon forgotten.
“There was definitely a little more motivation tonight especially after last year,” said sophomore star T. J. LEAF. “Especially in that finals game. I thought they embarrassed us a little so I wanted to come out and show them we can handle them.”
It took a half to figure out what Horizon was trying to do to Leaf defensively, but a couple minor tweaks in the locker room at half resulted in a Knights 20-4 run to start the third quarter and they eventually ran away with a 64-47 victory.
Two possessions. That’s all it took for the Panthers (5-7) to do away with their 2-3 zone to start the third quarter. Foothills’ (8-7) guards JAVIER GUERRERO and LUIS SALGADO both finished the game with 4 assists, but each lobbed up a pair of alley-oop passes to Leaf who was stationed on the inside block and it was quickly good knight to the zone after a pair of thunderous dunks.
Leaf went off for 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting from the floor, but he also added 12 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks. More impressively though, he accounted for 8 of the Knights’ 21 assists and that matched the entire Horizon team combined.
“It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play in high school ball,” head coach BRAD LEAF stated. “He was just phenomenal tonight.”
The size advantage for Foothills played a key role on the defensive side of the ball as they out-rebounded the Panthers 43-18, but with all the tall trees in the paint – and one Leaf – they played a lot of one-on-one on the outside and settled for a lot of lazy 3-point shots or floating runners not daring to get near the rim. Horizon finished the game shooting 18 for 53 from the field (34 percent) and 3 of 21 from long-range.
6-foot-8 senior DANE NORMAN helped on the boards by collecting 9 and Salgado claimed 7, while Guerrero nailed a couple of treys. KEITH GRANT was also extremely efficient going 4-of-5 from the field with 6 rebounds – all coming in the second half – but the real story was the obvious “leap” Leaf has taken from freshman to sophomore year.
“I really worked hard all summer long on jumping and getting more strength,” Leaf admitted. “I’ve gotten a little bit taller and longer, but my athleticism has gotten a lot better.”
No doubt that the talent has always been there coming from a family tree full of basketball genes. Dad played professional ball, older brother TROY LEAF broke the San Diego Section scoring record and claims T. J. might be taller but he has the better shot. But it’s undeniable that there’s a vast improvement in his game.
“He’s growing up,” said his head coach. “He’s not a little kid anymore.”
Foothills Christian: T.J. Leaf 31 (12 reb, 8 ast, 4 stl, 3 blk), Javier Guerrero 13 (4 reb, 4 ast, 1 stl), Keith Grant 8 (6 reb, 1 stl), Dane Norman 6 (9 reb, 1 ast, 2 blk), Luis Salgado 3 (7 reb, 4 ast), Jordan VanOmmering 3 (4 reb, 4 ast), J.R. Rivera (1 reb, 1 blk)
Horizon: Holden Haskett 18 (3 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk), Ethan Underwood 9 (4 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl), Micah Goeglin 7 (1 ast, 2 stl), Jacob Beneventi 6 (1 reb), Anthony Dumas 3, Drake Hills 2 (3 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl), Jasper Rysedorph 2 (3 reb, 1 ast), Anthony Oseguera (4 reb)
- Francis Parker – It’s no doubt that the Lancers are the cream of the crop of this years’ class with 6-foot-10 senior EVAN FITZNER and 6-foot-7 transfer TIM HARRISON. The only real question is will they lose a league game?
- Santa Fe Christian – The Eagles have the most leadership in senior captain BRIAN FINLEY (19.5 ppg) and junior JACK LANGBORG (15.8 ppg). However, they don’t have the size in the paint to take the title away from Parker.
- Bishops – Head coach MATT NIEHUES wanted to incorporate anew system when he got the Knights’ job four years ago and it’s starting to finally look like he’s doing a great job making it happen with blue-chip freshman JUSTIN WOODLEY (14 ppg) and senior captain MATT LIZANICH (16 ppg). They might have the most complete starting five in the league, but like the previous team they don’t have the size to contend for the title with their tallest player standing just six feet tall. Don’t get it twisted though, they are probably the most feisty in the league.
- La Jolla Country Day – Freshman phenom JOSIAH ESSELSTROM (16.8 ppg) has such a big impact on the floor that head coach RYAN MEIER admitted to adjusted their entire offense around him. CHRISTIAN HAYES (16.1 ppg) and BRUCE EDWARDS (12.9 ppg) are also excellent scorers, but they are a year or two away from contending for the title.
- Army-Navy Academy – After point guard DEVIN WATSON led the Warriors to a CIF Championship last year he quietly transferred to El Camino for his senior season. With six other graduates off of last year’s team that leaves head coach TOM TARATINO with a squad that amazingly doesn’t have a single senior on it. That bodes well for the future with the likes of junior captain CALEB MORRIS and six-foot-7 freshman sensation RICHARD POLANCO, but their depth and experience is a huge concern right now. They’ve played a schedule so far that has been out of their league with this roster instead of last seasons, so a jump in the rankings by the end of the season wouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
- Horizon – This may come as a shocker after the Panthers’ won the Division V state Championship last year when ETHAN UNDERWOOD hit the famous “Shot Heard Throughout California” at the buzzer with a 3-pointer to miraculously win it. The good news…he’s back. The bad news…is they have lost 78 percent of their scoring from last year’s squad in his older brother CODY UNDERWOOD, DARREN CARRINGTON JR. and MARKEL BYRD. Ethan (17.8 ppg) is now the star and no one else comes close to averaging double digits. Can others step up if he gets double-teamed?!
- Bishops – Not only are the Lady Knights #1 in the predictions…they might be the best team in all of California. They are loaded with St. John’s bound 6-foot-3 senior IMANI LITTLETON scoring in the paint (21.1 ppg) and dominating the boards (13 rpg), but they also have the best freshman in the county in DESTINY LITTLETON (20 ppg, 8.2 rpg) – no relation – that can shoot the lights out of the gym and can even knock ’em down from NBA range. Add to that mix is the leadership from senior STACEY DUCEY that keeps the glue together for head coach MARLON WELLS.
- La Jolla Country Day – This is definitely a down year for the Torreys, yet they are so good that they still claim a #3 rank in the polls which speak volumes to the product head coach TERRI BAMFORD can consistently put on the court. In a non-league bout earlier this season they lost to Bishops by 36 points, however they just beat Santa Fe Christian by 48 points, which shows you the levels that theses two teams are on. The first league game between the Knights should end the discussion of league champs one way or another.
- Santa Fe Christian – Head coach LAURIE BYRD has gotten the Eagles off to a great start, but the question remains about their early season schedule and 11-3 record after getting stomped by LJCD. JESSI MOORE, LINDSEY ALMQUIST and MEGAN FRANKE are the three team captains, but without a single player standing six feet tall, they are extremely undersized to make a true run at knocking off the teams literally above them.
- Horizon – JANAE OMUSI (27.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is a player of the year candidate and SARAH PORTER (15.3 ppg) plays a nice Robin, but beyond that the Panthers have an extremely thin roster. If either of the two gets injured or into foul trouble it’s lights out for head coach VICKIE HARRINGTON‘s squad.
ARMY-NAVY 59, Westminster 40 – It might be a new roster from last season’s award-winning Warriors (1-0) team, but the results ended the same in their season opener. They kicked off the 2013 Beach Bash at Corona Del Mar with a good victory over a heralded Lions program. DAVID TORRES (21 pts), CALEB MORRIS (19 pts) and RICHARD POLANCO (10 pts) did the majority of the damage for head coach TOM TARATINO and his new look team, but the defense remained the same. The Warriors jumped out to a 33-16 halftime lead and never looked back…
BISHOP’S 85, Escondido 40 – Taking home the title of the La Jolla Country Day Sweet 16 Invitational isn’t easy to do, but now the Knights (7-0) are trying to conquer the Matador’s Classic. The only question is can they be stopped?
If freshman guard DESTINY LITTLEFIELD has anything to say about it, the chances are are “Cloudy With A Chance of 3-Balls.”
Although she didn’t sink one from downtown against the Patriots, she messed around and got a triple-double by posting 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals.
BISHOPS 75, LA JOLLA COUNTRY DAY 49 – With both teams off to fast 3-0 starts it pitted the rivals against each other in the championship game of the Firebird Tip Off Tournament at Pacific Ridge high school Saturday night.
It was an even first half, but the Knights (4-0) exploded in the second half and doubled up the Torreys (3-1) 48-24 to run away with the tourney title.
Senior guard MATT LIZANICH was named tournament MVP, but JUSTIN WOODLEY scored a game-high 20 points. ERIC YU had 16 and Mizanich netted 12.
WILL EDWARDS paced the Torreys with 16 and freshman BRAXTON BURMEISTER pitched in with 11.
FRANCIS PARKER 52, Westview 45 – Six-foot-one senior point guard Marcus Graves poured in 20 points for the Wolverines, but it wasn’t enough as KHALEEL JENKINS (15), MICHAEL PELAIZ (12) and ANDREW CROSS (11) almost outscore them by themselves to keep the Lancers (2-0) in the winner’s bracket of the Hilltop Tournament.
Mission Hills 60, SANTA FE CHRISTIAN 57 – The Eagles (1-2) might be biting off more than they can chew in the Wolf Pack-Horsman Tournament, but the hung tough against a Grizzlies squad that is coming off of a CIF championship just a year ago.
JACK LANGBORG led all scorers with 23 points, while the FINLEY brothers, BRIAN and DANNY, scored 12 and 10 respectively.
BISHOPS 57, ALEMANY 43 – It’s only 8 days into the Knights’ (6-0) season, but it’s looking like head coach MARLON WELLS‘ losses will definitely be few-and-far between after they captured the illustrious title of the La Jolla Sweet 16 Invitational. On top of that they are playing short-handed as they’re waiting for transfers to become eligible and a few minor injuries to heal.
St. John’s-bound senior IMANI LITTLETON led the way against the Warriors with a dominating 26 point, 16 rebound performance and was named the tournament MVP. DESTINY LITTLETON had 13 points and 7 boards, while SIERRA DUCEY scored 10 and dished out 8 assists.
Highland Ranch 64, LA JOLLA COUNTRY DAY 63 (OT) – For the second time this week the lady Torreys (1-3) fell just short against the Falcons, but this time it was in the 3rd place game of their Sweet 16 tourney and this time it stung even more as they let 34-23 lead at the half slip away and eventually lost in overtime.
By Andrew Smith
La Jolla (12/6/2013) – The La Jolla Country Day Sweet 16 Invitational isn’t just another preseason tournament. It always contains some of the best teams on the west coast and this year’s version is no different. Containing five of the Top-20 teams from California is certainly nothing to scoff at. Throw into that mix the fact that two rivals were squaring off so early in the season only added more intensity onto the court.
“It’s great to play really good teams early in the season,” said Bishops head coach MARLON WELLS. “You never want to get too high or too low and you know exactly what you have to work on from there.”
The Knights-Torreys’ rivalry is well-documented and always hard fought, but in Friday night’s semifinal showdown Bishops rolled to a rather easy 70-34 victory to put themselves in the tourney finale Saturday night.
“It always feels good to beat your rival especially this early in the season,” senior SIERRA DUCEY admitted after season an early season-high 16 points. “We have a really young team so it’s just great to get out to this 5-0 start.”
The biggest storyline was the Knights’ defense. Not only did they hold LJCD to 25% shooting from the field – including 0-for-10 from deep – they also forced 28 Torreys’ turnovers and turned those into 24 points.
“Our girls did a great job of communicating and playing team basketball,” added Wells. “We dug down deep defensively, rotated well and never gave them easy shots.”
After a self-proclaimed “slow start” to the season, freshman DESTINY LITTLETON is starting to find her groove…
“She can shoot, but she also plays so hard and physical it really gets the rest of us going,” admitted Ducey.
After a 34-point outburst the day before, she posted her second straight double-double with 23 more – on 7-of-13 shooting – also adding 11 boards, 5 assists and 4 steals.
“I really struggled early on this year,” Littleton described. “I had a real long talk with myself and decided I just needed to step it up, especially tonight against a rival.”
The Knights only owned a seven point halftime lead, but outscored LJCD 45-16 in the second half. Admittedly their main focus was on MAI-LONI HENSON and SABRINA GIBSON. They combined for 19 pts, 16 reb while the rest of the team had 15 and 9.
“When you have a really young team game like this can happen,” Torreys’ coach TERRI BRAMFORD said after. “I don’t think any of us saw this coming, but it was a good ole’ butt kicking.”
La Jolla Country Day: Mai-loni Henson 10 (10 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl), Sabrina Callahan 9 (6 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk), Isabel Johnson 6 (1 reb, 1 ast), Cydney Collins 4 (2 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk), Melanie Quijano 3 (3 reb, 3 ast), Mariana Eciji 2 (3 reb, 4 stl, 1 blk)
Bishops: Destiny Littlefield 23 (11 reb, 5 ast, 4 stl, 1 blk), Sierra Ducey 16 (5 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl), Malea Casillas 13 (9 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl), Imani Littleton 8 (9 reb, 2 ast, 5 stl, 4 blk), Karinne Aguire 7 (1 reb, 2 stl), Christina Frank 3 (1 reb), Anna Szymanski (1 reb, 1 stl)
By Andrew Smith
San Diego (3/22/2013) – Never count the Horizon Panthers boys basketball team out. I learned that very hard lesson through first-hand experience. As the editor of San Diego Coastal Sports, in it’s first year of publication, I was just meeting all of the Coastal League basketball coaches for the first time. I waited to see Horizon play in person until January’s big MLK Showcase at Hoover. It was DARREN CARRINGTON‘s first game with the hoops team, but once they fell down 19-3 to Hoover I admittedly told Union Tribune’s Steve Brand and San Diego Reader’s Anthony Gentile (both seated next to me) after they asked about the Panthers team this year because they had yet to see them, “You guys are not missing too much.”
I left the gym unamused, making my way home only to find out they stormed back to beat the #2 ranked team in San Diego. I even proclaimed via Twitter that no San Diego basketball team had a shot to win state so let’s start baseball season already.
They went on to not only win CIF. but they made it all the way to Sacramento in the California Division V Championship game against St. Joseph Notre Dame at Sleep Train Arena Friday afternoon.
Nothing was falling for them late. Maybe their legs were exhausted from the furious third quarter comeback they had just completed. They faced a 10-point deficit with 5:25 left out of the halftime break and fought all the way back to even lead at one point. That was the last time they would ever lead again in the game…until the final buzzer sounded and the young sophomore ETHAN UNDERWOOD had just nailed “The Shot Heard Throughout California.”
Down two points with 2:23 to play, the Panthers had six straight possessions with a rather easy drive to the rim, but were unable to convert in the paint. With forty-five seconds remaining and trailing by four head coach TYRONE HOPKINS was forced to play the foul game.
The first trip to the line saw the Pilots miss the front end of a one-and-one. MARKEL BYRD swooped the rebound, passed to CODY UNDERWOOD only to get it back, drive to the hoop – same result – just short. Pilots 6-foot-7 center Temidayo Yussuf calmly nailed both freebies to give them a 45-39 lead with 35 seconds remaining on the clock.
Cody Underwood then drove to the lane and kicked out to Carrington. Trailing by six he curiously drove into the lane – rather than take the 3-point attempt – and turned the ball over trying to make an extra pass. Forced to foul the Panthers were 25 seconds away from tears of disappointment as even the TV personalities claimed, “That’s gonna do it folks. St. Joseph Notre Dame is going to win their storied fifth state title.”
Hopkins was going out without a fight. He yelled to his players, “This isn’t over! Box out! One-and-one! Let’s Go!”
The Pilots went on to make the front end making it a 7-point lead with 25.1 seconds remaining when Carrington corralled the rebound of the second missed attempt. He immediately kicked it out to Byrd, who rushed down court and found Ethan Underwood for a 3-point field goal.
Down four with 11.3 seconds to play, Byrd picked up his fifth foul as he sent Yussuf back to the charity stripe…this time in the double bonus. He missed both and once Carrington grabbed the board it took him all but 6.1 seconds to go from coast-to-coast for the easy layup.
With four ticks of the clock left Horizon fouled Notre Dame’s best shooter, sophomore Marcus Harris, but et tu Brute – he went on to miss both – following in his teammates steps. The Pilots were 3-for-13 from the line in the final 90 seconds of play.
Of the Panthers’ two Underwood brothers Cody is much more of an outside threat than Ethan. Cody had made 49 three pointers on the season to Ethan’s 6, but you wouldn’t know that if you just watched the San Diego CIF title game and this match, which saw him combine to go 1-for-16 in the two tilts.
Carrington led the Panthers with 17 points, but his game-high 14th rebound set the stage for a miracle to the Horizon faithful…
Ethan received the pass from Carrington at mid-court, took 2 dribbles and lined up for a 30-footer from straight away and he NAILED it for his 15 point as their tears of failure turned into tears of joy.
At first everyone seemed paralyzed, almost undoubtedly unsure of what they had just saw. Underwood was one of them and it even took his entire team a good 3 or 4 seconds before they tackled him to the ground and dog-piled him at mid-court after winning 47-46.
“I wanted to get up the court quick because we only had four seconds left,” he diagrammed. I wanted to get to the middle because that’s my spot so with a quick little crossvover I got there. I knew it was going in as soon as it left my hands I knew it was good. I just want to thank God.”
As a non-believer of the Panthers at the beginning of the year ETHAN UNDERWOOD proved to me to never count them out with his final shot of his high school career alongside his brother. Combined the Underwood brothers have shown the stuff legends are made of and I will be attending their pep rally to shake each and every one of their hands.
Hopkins added, “It’s just such a blessing that we got it done.”