Montgomery takes CIFSS Open Title

Bishop Montgomery of Torrance wins the coveted CIFSS Open Division title over Etiwanda with a big second half. With the victory, the Knights will move to No. 2 in the state behind NCS D3 winner and season-long No. 1 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in the new Cal-Hi Sports State Top 20. The big question is how the top four seeds in the SoCal Open regional will shake out.

Eleven of the state’s Top 20 ranked teams last week competed in the CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs, so to win that title is a coveted honor to say the least. Not all of the teams played this past week, but the two left standing were top seed Bishop Montgomery and No. 6 seed Etiwanda.

The CIFSS Open Division is so tough, Etiwanda was actually ranked higher in the state (No. 5 coming into Saturday night’s title game) than it was seeded in the section playoffs. The Eagles defeated higher seeds Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth (No. 3 in the quarterfinals) and Mater Dei of Santa Ana of Mater Dei (No. 2 in the semifinals) en route to the final and was looking to knock off a higher seed for the third consecutive game.

In a classic tale of two halves, Etiwanda was executing its game plan and led the top seeded Knights 22-16 at halftime. It was Bishop Montgomery, however, which took control and won the second half, and the CIFSS Open Division title, 56-50, behind the play of sophomore forward Jordan Schakel.

The Buzz 150Schakel, 6-foot-7, had 10 points in the pivotal third period and finished with a game-high 19 points. Bishop Montgomery (30-1) outscored Etiwanda (23-8) in the third period 20-5 after the Knights were outscored 13-5 in the second period. Bishop Montgomery star guard Stevie Thompson Jr. also had a big second half for coach Doug Mitchell’s club with 13 points after struggling early. Thompson was Montgomery’s second double-digit scorer after making only 1-of-8 field goals and scoring three points before intermission.

“We were right where we wanted to be at halftime,” said Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner. “Maybe we felt a little too good and we came out flat. I think it was defensive breakdowns; we gave up way too many uncontested shots.”

After making two driving field goals right before halftime to give Etiwanda its cushion, Miles Oliver, the Eagles’ talented sophomore point guard, picked up his third and fourth fouls back-to-back with 5:59 remaining in the third period. Bishop Montgomery was up 23-22 at that point and went on a 27-5 second half run to take the steam out of the Eagles.

“Miles picking up those two fouls affected us on the offensive end,” Kleckner said. “Bishop Montgomery is a good basketball team. They have good shooters and good athletes.”

Pepperdine-bound Kameron Edwards led Etiwanda in the scoring department with 12 points. He also had a game-high 11 rebounds and two steals. Oliver also finished in double digits with 10 points. Late in the game, he hit a bank 3-pointer and had an opportunity to cut Bishop Montgomery’s lead down to two points after being fouled on a made 3-pointer with 14 seconds that made the score 53-50. Oliver completely short-armed on the free throw, however, summed up Etiwanda’s fate in the second half.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Bishop Montgomery coach Doug Mitchell said. “I thought we came out passive. I didn’t give a big speech or say anything special that turned it around. I just talked about playing more aggressive and in our character.”

Bishop Montgomery, which came into the game ranked No. 3 in the state To 20 and No. 9 in the FAB 50 national rankings (which were both published last Monday before Etiwanda beat state No. 2 Mater Dei in the CIFSS Open Division semifinals), will assuredly be the No. 1 seed in the SoCal Open Regional when pairings are released Sunday afternoon.

The question is who will be the No. 2 seed in light of Fairfax of Los Angeles defeating archrival Westchester of Los Angeles, 56-47, for the CIF L.A. City Section Open Division title.

In our long-time rankings system where head-to-head is ultimately the most important criteria, Etiwanda should be the No. 2 seed. The Eagles defeated Mater Dei in the semifinals and the Monarchs defeated Fairfax 47-34 during the regular season. Naturally, that would place Mater Dei No. 3 and the Lions No. 4.

As a section open champion, we can see a scenario where Fairfax is seeded above a section open division semifinalist, but head-to-head should trump the other criteria for seeding purposes in this scenario.

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