Fairfax rises to challenge to win City Section Open Division crown

Fairfax rises to challenge to win City Section Open Division crown
Fairfax players celebrate with the City Open Division championship trophy. (Darryl Washburn)

For most of the night, the rubber match looked more like a mismatch.

Donald Gipson scored 18 points and Isaiah Ajiboye added 17 as Fairfax captured its seventh City Section title and fourth under Coach Harvey Kitani with a 56-47 victory over Westchester in the inaugural Open Division final Saturday night at Cal State Dominguez Hills.


Lorne Currie added 10 points for Fairfax (30-2) in the first finals matchup between the Western League rivals since 2007. Westchester holds a 3-2 advantage, having beaten the Lions for the Division I title in 2002, 2003 and 2005.

The teams split their league meetings this season, each winning on its home floor, but Fairfax rose to the challenge on the big stage Saturday.

“This is the best one,” Kitani said. "These guys came out of nowhere. I thought we played solid defense tonight and didn't make any stupid mistakes. We had no breakdowns.”

Fairfax built a 27-17 halftime lead and stretched the margin to 14 points at the end of the third quarter.

Ellis Sallahuddin made back-to-back three-pointers to pull 12-time City champion Westchester within seven with 49 seconds left, but the Comets got no closer than six the rest of the way.

Sallahuddin scored 19 points, including five three-pointers, for the Comets (21-12), who lost in the finals for the second consecutive year. Keith Fisher, Jordan Terrell and L'Kielynn Taylor scored seven apiece for Westchester.

Fairfax's Lindsey Drew didn't score until a putback layup with 5:32 left in the game and the Lions leading by 12. He finished with three points.

In the Division I final, Sylmar capped its Cinderella story with a 51-48 victory over Granada Hills.

“I can't explain it this is like ‘Angels in the Outfield' it just happened,” Sylmar's Bort Escoto said after becoming the first coach in City history to win back-to-back titles while moving up a division. “We were horrible at the start of the season. This is the least talented team I've had in my 21 years at the school, but we came together at the right time.”

Tyler Hooks took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 points to spark the Spartans' comeback.

“It's my senior year, so I had to step up for my team,” Hooks said. “We just had to get some stops down the stretch. We never thought we'd get here but tonight we knew we were the better team.”

Michael Kalu's game-tying three-point attempt bounced off the rim with two seconds left and Jason Horosny missed the putback as time expired for the second-seeded Highlanders (20-13).

Sylmar had to win four road playoff games en route to the title, including an overtime victory over top-seeded Palisades in the quarterfinals.

The Spartans defeated Garfield in the Division II final last winter.


In the Division II final, Louis Walker scored 21 points, Justin Griffin had 14 and Kiza Sekiyoba added 13 to lead Hamilton past Van Nuys Grant, 65-47.

It was the second City title for the


(13-16) in three years under Coach Mark Mizuno. Tal Gonen scored 16 points for the Lancers (17-14), who were trying to win their first City title in 29 seasons under head coach Howard Levine.

"After the first four minutes they asserted themselves," said Levine, who led Grant to the City 3A final in 1988 and the Division III final in 2012. "They had enough outside shooting where we couldn't double down. I'm not frustrated at all. Every loss is tough, whether it's the [City] finals or in summer league."