The victory earned coach Ray Johnson his 500th career win and his team's triumph means it will get the re-match they knew all season long would probably have to occur if the Wildcats were to carve a path to the promised land. El Camino will meet No. 5 state ranked Fairfax of Los Angeles, a 57-46 winner on the road at Bakersfield and a team the Wildcats defeated in December at the National Tournament at Torrey Pines. The game will be played on El Camino's home court this Thursday with the winner moving into the finals on Saturday at the Long Beach Arena.
"Coach has been telling us that the San Diego teams are always out in the first round and we were determined to not let that happen in our gym," said 6-6 junior Gyno Pomare, who once again dominated the paint with 15 rebounds and six blocks to go with a game-high 25 points. "We knew these guys because we played them three times this summer. We knew we had to challenge them because they are a very talented team."
The Cubs did not go easy and were led by 6-3 Kansas bound senior Omar Wilkes, who played an outstanding game with 19 points, seven rebounds and four steals to delight the Cub fans (including his father Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes) who jammed the south stands behind the Loyola bench.
El Camino came out strong against a Loyola press and led 22-15 after one quarter and 40-26 at the half. The Cubs, led by Wilkes and 6-6 senior Chris Ducker, mounted a furious comeback with a 21-point third quarter to cut the lead to six at 53-47 entering the final stanza. Loyola scored the first four points of the quarter to cut the lead to 53-51...then after exchanging baskets it was 55-53.
That was when the defense of Pomare and fellow junior 6-3 Justin Armstrong (16 points and 7 rebounds) and 6-1 senior Gerald Prevost...plus the press breaking ball handling of Wyoming bound Mikel Watson (19 points and 5 assists) and 6'3" senior Greg Sprink (11 points and 7 rebounds) completely shut down the Loyola offense.
For the next almost six minutes the Cubs would only score seven points on free throws while during that stretch the Wildcats built their lead by converting 10 of 12 from the charity stripe. By the time Loyola finally converted a bucket at 1:09 remaining the score was 73-62 and the Wildcat victory was all but assured.
"We wanted to make a statement that we really have some good teams down here and can win against the top teams from the L.A. area," said a delighted Johnson, who admitted to having some tense moments in the early fourth quarter.
As I said in a previous column, each game at this stage of the season is the toughest...and they get tougher if you continue to win. Should the Wildcats prevail over Fairfax, the reward is a probable match-up against defending Div I state champion Westchester, who plays Eisenhower of Rialto in the other semifinal.
I believe the way El Camino is playing with Pomare dominating the inside against anyone who dares come into the paint...and the enthusiasm of what will be another raucous capacity home crowd...will propel the Wildcats to the Regional Championship game.
In other action on the girls side...
Mission Bay 55, La Puente Bishop Amat 50
The host Buccaneers trailed by 10 with five minutes remaining before the "X Factor," 6-4junior Amber Sprague, took over and ignited a furious rally as No. 8 Div III rated Mission Bay (22-2) overcame No. 4 Div III rated Bishop Amat behind Sprague's 26 points, 12 rebounds, six blocked shots and 2 steals. The win should go a long way to silence the critics who said Mission Bay did not play enough tough teams outside the area in the early season.
The reward for the victory is a trip to Artesia on Thursday to face the No. 2 Div III rated Artesia girls which has both height and speed. Sprague will need another giant game...and lots of help from Amanda Rego (21 points, 3 assists and 4 steal vs. Amat) if the Buccaneers are to advance to a possible Regional Championship match-up, probably against Bishop Montgomery of Torrance.
Other San Diego Section winners who moved on to the second round in the Regionals were:
Boys Div III
La Jolla 77, Hanford 74 (OT)
Grayson Moyer, La Jolla 36 points. La Jolla travels to Artesia as the second half of a doubleheader that includes the Mission Bay girls. Boys Div IV
Horizon (29-1) 78, Crossroads of Santa Monica 44
Four players in double figures led by Jared Dudley with 18 points.
Lincoln (29-3) 66, Oaks Christian of Westlake Village 57
Shaun Davis led Lincoln with 34 points. Horizon hosts Verbum Dei and Lincoln travels to Bakersfield to take on Garces.
Boys Div V
Santa Fe Christian (27-6) 79, Apple Valley Christian 76
Nick Corso led Santa Fe Christian with 41 points, including seven three-pointers. Santa Fe Christian's reward is a trip to Reedley to face Immanuel, a perennial D5 powerhouse.
Girls Div IV
La Jolla Country Day (25-4) 61, Bellarmine-Jefferson of Burbank 25
The No. 6 state overall and No. 2 Div IV ranked Torreys won easily behind Candice Wiggins 22 points, 13 rebounds and 5 steals to advance to the second round where they will host Oaks Christian.