By Ronnie Flores
For the state’s highly-ranked teams competing in the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA playoffs, the quarterfinals had a championship atmosphere. This was not only because all four games pitted highly-regarded teams against each other, but also because a spot in the section semifinals all but guarantees a berth in the 16-team CIF Southern California Division I regional playoffs.
The massive Southern Section can have a maximum of four teams placed in the CIF’s new eight-team open division southern bracket, but regardless highly-ranked teams would rather not take the chance they could receive an at-large bid to the SoCal regionals as a quarterfinalist.
That is now the scenario for both Mission Viejo, which has been ranked in the state’s top 20 at times during the regular season, and Loyola, which entered the week ranked No. 11. For Mission Viejo, which came into the game 26-3, it was a tough pill to swallow. The Diablos led nine-loss Inglewood by 14 points in the third quarter but couldn’t hold off the hard-charging Sentinels and fell 64-61.
Mission Viejo was done in by unforced turnovers in the final minutes. After Inglewood’s Nicholas Smiley nailed one-of-two free throws to give Inglewood a 62-61 lead with 1:26 left, Mission Viejo Grid-Hoop stud Max Redfield (headed to Notre Dame to play football) couldn’t handle a pass slightly off target. Inglewood reserve Sean Keyes Jr. then accounted for the game’s final points when he came up with a huge offensive rebound put back with 48 seconds remaining.
Mission Viejo was forced to call a timeout to avoid another turnover when it couldn’t inbound the ball. After the timeout, the Diablos were promptly called for a five-second violation. With 24.3 seconds remaining, Mission Viejo got one last chance when it forced a held ball and had the arrow pointed in its favor, but the Diablos could only muster an off-balance look at a 3-pointer before time expired.
“It was real surprising for me that caliber of team got called for five seconds in that situation,” said Inglewood coach Patrick Roy, whose team was led in the scoring department by guard Randy Onwuasor (18 points) and forward Kris Randall (17 points.)
Roy, who has had several teams in recent seasons go on strong surges in the playoffs, knew what was at stake in this quarterfinal game and let his team know beforehand.
“I let them know it’s the quarterfinals and if you lose in the quarterfinals there is no tomorrow, you go home. We play at Mater Dei next and that definitely will be a tough challenge. All season long we’ve played mediocre at best, but we felt if we got into the playoffs we could be successful.”
For Loyola, the quarterfinal challenge came in the form of Long Beach Poly, the state’s top-ranked team since the preseason. The Cubs quickly fell behind before making a frantic comeback that just came up short, as the Jackrabbits pulled out a 75-69 victory.
With its win, Long Beach Poly will have a semifinal home date with No. 6 Etiwanda, which advanced on Friday with a 43-28 victory over Silverado of Victorville. Silverado was the team which ended the season of No. 7 Centennial of Corona with an upset win over the Huskies in quarterfinals.
Poly (27-2) jumped out to a 26-11 lead after a quarter and led 47-33 at halftime. Loyola (22-7) closed the gap to three points (70-67), but the Jackrabbits made their free throws down the stretch. Mr. Basketball candidate Roschon Prince led Poly with 27 points.
Similar to Roy, Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer understood the magnitude of Friday’s game.
“We knew how tough Loyola would be at home. I sold my team on this being the toughest game of their season. Our level of urgency is high right now and we are taking it one game at a time.”
The biggest upset of the night came in the Southern Section’s second toughest playoff bracket — Division IV-AA. Bishop Montgomery of Torrance was right on the heels of Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei in the state rankings (actually ranked No. 1 in the state and for Southern California by most others) and considered a prime candidate to be moved up to the open division — provided it won a section title with a 31-0 record. That all came tumbling down after Bishop Montgomery saw its 29-game winning streak snapped by La Verne Lutheran, 63-59, in a semifinal contest.
Friday’s upset of Bishop Montgomery was the biggest win by far for first-year La Verne Lutheran coach Brandon Lee, a former Glendora High standout and an assistant under 2011 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year Eric Cooper Sr., now at St. Anthony of Long Beach.
La Verne Lutheran’s win over No. 3 Bishop Montgomery came on the heels of its quarterfinal victory over Windward of Los Angeles, which entered the contest ranked No. 15 in the state. With Bishop Montgomery losing on Friday night, the chances of Windward or Price of Los Angeles (another quarterfinalist) grabbing a spot in the SoCal Div. IV regional playoffs took a blow because the Knights will presumably take one of those berths instead of moving up to the open division.
“La Verne’s five-guard offense is killing people,” said Windward coach Miguel Villegas when he found out La Verne Lutheran pulled off Friday’s big upset. “Perhaps the CIF will now consider Pacific Hills (for the open division) since they could win two section titles in a row.”
It will be an all-Alpha League final in Division IV-A, as the No. 16 ranked Bruins will defend their title against No. 14 Brentwood. Pacific Hills edged Cantwell Sacred Heart of Montebello, 52-51, after Jonathon Mills sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left. Brentwood advanced to the championship game after defeating St. Joseph of Santa Maria, 54-46, as standouts Tra Holder and Leland King combined for 27 points.
NorCal Update: Mitty avoids upset
There were no upsets in Friday’s sectional playoff games involving top-ranked teams from Northern California. State No. 4 Salesian of Richmond plays Saturday after winning earlier in the week by 32 points in its first CIF North Coast Section playoff game. No. 5 Sheldon of Sacramento moved on to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals with an easy win Friday, while No. 9 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland rolled over Encinal of Alameda 86-48 in the CIF NCS Division III bracket.
One top NorCal team that almost got upset was No. 13 Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, which held on for a 59-57 win over Soquel in the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division quarterfinals. Aaron Gordon scored 27 points for the Monarchs.
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