Harold Abend's San Diego Section Roundup

The 2003 San Diego Section Basketball Championships came to an end late Saturday evening with nine boys and nine girls teams advancing to the Regional Championships beginning this Tuesday. The combined 13,658 fans who attended the 10 games Friday and Saturday at Cox Arena certainly got their money's worth, witnessing some exceptional high school basketball.

At least three teams will have legitimate chances to advance to the Regional Final and a possible trip to Sacramento and the state championships....despite getting hardly any breaks from the Southern Section dominated seedings. One of these days someone is going to put pressure on the state legislature to do something about breaking up the Southern Section into more than one section...thus giving other geographical areas like San Diego a fair shake in state championship events...one of these days..ha..ha!!

Division I Boys

Gyno Pomare did his best Wilt Chamberlain imitation, swatting seven shots and altering a half dozen others...pulling down 8 rebounds while dropping in 16 points and combining with fellow junior Justin Armstrong (10 rebounds and four blocks) as El Camino (30-2) sent an intimidated San Diego Caver squad home wondering how to get its high powered offense going in a section championship game.

Two years ago San Diego scored 38 in the final. This year it was only 43, which was almost 30 under its season average in losing to the Wildcats, 67-43. Anthony Palmer was the lone bright spot for San Diego with a game high 25 points.

The domination by El Camino was evidenced in almost every facet of the game. The advantage in rebounds was 44-27, assists 12-3 and in blocked shots it was an amazing 14-0. Mikel Watson didn't seem to be a major factor, but he scored when he wanted and shot 3 of 5 from the arc to finish with a team-high 17 points.

"We're playing really well right now," said coach Ray Johnson, who won his 499th game and his fourth (3 boys and 1 girls) section crown. "I think we can do some damage in the regionals."

Division I Girls

After waiting almost an hour for the Div II double overtime game to conclude, many on press row were wondering which team would feel the pressure of the delay most. It certainly was not the El Camino Wildcats (27-4), who put on the most dominating performance of any of the five girls or boys winners in the championships with their win over Poway.

After a performance in the semis against Rancho Bernardo in which coach Vicki Evans-Thomas said the team was "playing not to lose," the Wildcats were ready even if the game had to be played in the parking lot. El Camino came out smoking, outscoring Poway 15-4 in the first quarter and 17-10 in the second to take a 32-14 lead into the locker room at halftime. When Poway mounted a run in the late third quarter to close to 40-28, the Wildcats answered by closing out the Titans from there on by outscoring them 26-6 for a final victory margin of 66-34.

The defensive pressure applied by junior guard Jolanda Diego (8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals) and senior Jessica Eggleston broke a Titan squad that had beaten San Diego and Charde Houston in the semis with pressure and good ball handling of its own.

Wildcat post player Nikki Oakland showed why I consider her one of the top three big girls in the section by controlling the paint on both ends of the court. The 6-1 junior had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. Junior guard Megan Johnson had a good shooting night and led the team in scoring together with senior Lauren Laurent (10 rebounds) with 16 apiece.

Div II Boys

With his back partially turned to the basket...an opposing player falling into him...and just :00.2 tenths of a second on the clock, Escondido's Lorenzo Keeler threw down the biggest basket of his career and his school's history as the Cougars (21-8) won their first ever section boys basketball championship, defeating Helix 60-59.

Keeler's shot erased a furious comeback by the Highlanders, who trailed 53-43 with only 5:18 remaining. That was when the Cougar center, senior Brandon Burgess (10 rebounds),fouled out. Then a minute later at 4:06 left, Escondido's other big man, junior Djordje Jovanic, also fouled out and Helix began a parade to the free throw line trailing 53-46. From there on the Highlanders shot 15 free throws and had they made more than six...Keeler's shot probably would never have occurred.

"I thought I was fouled when the guy bumped me as I put it up. I didn't even see the hoop," said Keeler, who led all scorers with 28 points. "This is the best feeling in the world. I wanted to get a win for all my brothers who played here and lost last year, especially Julius who was hurt in an accident."

Div II Girls

Never before in CIFSDS history had a championship game gone to double overtime. That was until last Friday night when El Capitan and Mt. Miguel mixed it up in what was one of the most entertaining games of the 10 played last weekend. The game was a see-saw affair with Mt. Miguel leading 23-11 at halftime before being outscored 34-22 in the second half. In the end, Mt. Miguel (27-3) put a lid on the basket in the second overtime by not allowing El Capitan (22-7) a point and making 6 of 8 free throws to prevail 55-49. Christine Fitzgerald led the way for the Matadors with 16 points, 8 assists and 8 steals.

Division III Boys

The Steele Canyon Cougars are in their first year of varsity basketball and as such have no seniors on the team. Getting to a section championship game is a real feather in their cap, and this would appear to be a team of the future. On Saturday, they shot well but against the bigger, stronger La Jolla Vikings (23-7), their dream of a section championship ended with La Jolla winning easily 62-47.

As is the case in most section championship games and beyond, the team that plays the more physical game inside...not the team that shoots beyond the arc, will almost always win. This game was no exception as Steele Canyon had no answer inside for 6-5 junior Grayson Moyer and 6-4 senior Wai Jon Wai. Moyer finished with 16 points, 19 rebounds and 4 assists while Jon Wai denied the Cougars (16-14) any easy baskets in the paint. La Jolla enjoyed a whopping 41-18 advantage on the boards while having 14 assisted baskets to Steele Canyon's three. Jake Wohlfiel sliced and diced his way through the Cougars' defense for a game-high 21 points.

Div III Girls

Mission Bay has only lost two games all year...and those were in the Nike Tournament in Phoenix to state highly-ranked Redondo Union by one point and to the Peddie School of New Jersey, currently ranked among the top 50 in the nation.

On Friday the Buccaneers answered all the local naysayers by taking the high flying Kearny Komets out of their game and handing them a 59-53 setback to advance to the Regional Championships.

Daphne Kennedy had a great game for Kearny and posted 21 points, but this game was about the "X-Factor," Mission Bay's 6-4 junior Amber Sprague. Sprague showed everyone at Cox Arena why I consider her the best big girl in the section. On offense, Sprague can score down low and passes as well as any big girl from the post I have seen in a long time. On defense she can change shots and blocks them in bunches. Against Kearny she had 26 points, 19 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and 3 assists.

The perfect compliment to Sprague is 5-9 junior Amanda Rego, who cut Kearny to ribbons with her excellent ball handling. Dribbling and dishing off with either hand, Rego burned the Komets with 13 assists to go with 8 points and 6 rebounds.

Div IV Boys

When Jared Dudley and Alan Wiggins play well and dominate the inside, the result is almost always a Horizon win. Add senior defensive ball hawker and outside shooting specialist Ryan Read to the mix and you have a team with a distinct possibility of repeating as state champions.

On Saturday, Dudley, Wiggins, Read and the rest of the Panthers (28-1) showed up big for the re-re-re-re-rematch with Lincoln (28-3) and the result was the same as the previous four meetings. Horizon's hard-nosed defense, inside power game and well executed passing resulted in a comfortable 79-64 disposing of the Hornets.

Coach Charlie Paulk and his finesse style of play just do not seem to have the kind of game that can stop the Panthers. Horizon killed Lincoln on the boards 48-28 as time and time again Wiggins (14 rebounds, 10 points and 6 assists) would get second and third shots at the basket or rebound and dish for an easy hoop. Dudley, who was in foul trouble most of the game, and is a leading contender for section player of the year, still managed to lead all scorers with 21 points while himself pulling down 10 rebounds. Read, who got hot in last year's playoffs, and seems to be a big game player, finished with 19 points and was 3-of-4 from the 3-point line.

Coach Zack Jones won his eighth title in eight tries to remain the section all-time leader in that category. When asked to compare this years team to last year's state champion, led by Nate Carter, Jones would only say that this game was "an indication of how good this team can be...we're pretty good but we're not finished yet."

My friend Steve Brand of the Union Tribune respectfully disagrees, but I believe this team is better than last year's. Dudley plays like a man amongst boys...Wiggins has more hop than the Energizer bunny...and with Read getting hot...Franklin Williams and Anthony Johnson filling important roles...and 6-7 senior Mezron Evans as additional bulk in the middle against potential opponent Garces of Bakersfield and their 7-footer Robert Swift ...Horizon is definitely the team to beat in Div IV.

Division IV Girls

The big question of how Candice Wiggins would do if she had to go all out was answered in the first minute of Friday's championship game against Bishop's. Also answered was the question of whether Marissa Rivera can play the kind of tough inside game that La Jolla Country Day will need to "three peat" as a state champion, this time in Div IV where the toughest teams from Northern California compete.

On the first question, Candice surprised no one by coming right out of the box in a one-person zone defense against Bishop's. Wiggins was everywhere and guarding everyone and had a typical Candice game with 28 points, 4 assists, 8 steals, 4 blocked shots...and she made the only two 3-pointers she attempted. As for the 6-1 Rivera, she played like a player possessed in the first half, totally dominating the inside on both ends against any and everyone who came into the paint. By halftime she had 19 points and 9 rebounds en route to 21 points and 12 rebounds for the game.

With Candice seemingly all the way back, Rivera playing better than I have ever seen...and with sophomore sensation La Toya Cunningham (8 points and 7 steals) and sophomore Mercedes Fox-Griffin helping with ball handling that allows Candice to save energy and post up low...Country Day should find itself at CSU Fullerton next weekend...and then on to Sacramento.

Torreys coach Terri Bamford is looking for big things from her post player Rivera. "She knew with Candice out she had to carry the team...now her confidence is keeping her going." Will it be to a third straight state championship...we'll know soon.

Division V Boys

For a brief moment, Santa Fe Christian coach Randy Wright was tied with Zack Jones for the most section boys basketball titles with seven, but Jones' victory later in the evening did nothing to diminish the fine job Wright has done over the years at Santa Fe and Christian El Cajon in both divisions IV and V. On Saturday. Wright's Santa Fe Christian Eagles (26-6) overcame the flu sufferings of star Nick Corso to grab their second section title in three years by defeating Julian, 79-50.

Despite trailing 30-29 at the half after suffering a miserable 28 percent shooting percentage including 4-of-16 from three-ball land, the Eagles refused to go away from their style of game. Santa Fe, looking like a different team, came out firing in the third quarter and played tremendous ball hawking defense to outscore Julian 26-12 in that third stanza. By then, Julian's spirit was broken and in the fourth quarter the game became a blowout.

Corso, who looked totally drained after the game from the effects of the flu, nonetheless finished with 24 points including two long threes to open the third quarter when Santa Fe Christian made its statement.

"Our kids played much harder in the second half and our depth wore them down," said a beaming Wright, who admitted he was a little nervous after his team played to poorly in the first half.

Division V Girls

When the score is 11-9 at halftime, about the only silver lining one could find is in being the team with 11 points. The other positive for Santa Fe Christian besides leading was that it held Calvin Christian scoreless in the quarter to erase a 9-7 first quarter deficit.

In the end, just enough shots fell for the Eagles for them to win their third section crown since 1999 by holding on to defeat Calvin Christian 34-28. Three girls, Megan Daniel, Lindsey Olson and Kelly Leppert, had seven points for the Eagles, while Olson also had 11 rebounds.

Editor's Note: Harold Abend is in his second year as the San Diego Section correspondent for Cal-Hi Sports. He also has assisted the CIF state office for many years as a media relations consultant.

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