In state basketball playoffs, some division winners now underdogs

Lots of teams that won CIF basketball championships last weekend got to feel good about themselves. Their fans are happy, their principals are showing pride, their parents are offering hugs and kisses.

Now it's time for a reality check. The state playoffs begin this week, and several champions are about to face a challenge from teams that would have been ranked far ahead of them if they hadn't been pulled out to play in the Open Division.


Yes, it's a little strange. Teams that lost in the Southern Section and City Section Open Division playoffs get a second chance. Most are being returned to their original divisions.

That means 1AA champion Sun Valley Village Christian and 1A champion Santa Ana Foothill will suddenly become underdogs after the arrival of Long Beach Poly, Corona Centennial, Redondo, Riverside JW North, Chino Hills and Bellflower St. John Bosco for the Division I Southern California Regional playoffs that begin on Wednesday. Centennial got the No. 1 seed.

La Habra Sonora, the 3AA champion, and Beverly Hills, the 3A champion, are being joined by Los Angeles Cathedral, La Verne Damien, Mission Hills Alemany and Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart in the Division III playoffs. Cathedral was seeded No. 1.

Los Angeles Windward, the 5AA champion, and Playa del Rey St. Bernard, the 5A champion, will become underdogs in state Division V after being joined by Chatsworth Sierra Canyon and Los Angeles Price, the top two seeds.

There's no doubt that the section finals produced some memorable performances. Fairfax (30-2) won the City Section Open Division title over Westchester, 56-47, before a packed crowd at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Donald Gipson scored 18 points and Isaiah Ajiboye added 17 points. It was the fourth City title for Coach Harvey Kitani, whose team is seeded No. 2 in the Open Division playoffs behind No. 1 Torrance Bishop Montgomery (30-1).

West Hills Chaminade pulled off a shocker in the Southern Section Open Division girls' final, rallying from a 14-point deficit to defeat No. 1 Santa Ana Mater Dei, 64-63. Isabel Newman made a baseline jump shot with 3.8 seconds left for the game-winning basket. Paige Fecske scored 25 points for the Eagles. Chaminade picked up the No. 1 seed on Sunday.

Anaheim Canyon came up with the most astounding rally of any season, coming back from 28 points down in the third quarter and 22 in the fourth to defeat Lawndale, 103-98, in two overtimes in the 2AA boys' final.

Then there was St. Bernard, the team that went 0-8 in the Del Rey League but still got a 5A playoff berth. Of course, that's the league with three Open Division teams — Bishop Montgomery, Cathedral and Cantwell-Sacred Heart. St. Bernard won the 5A title with a 60-56 win over Temecula Rancho Christian.

In 10 years, no one will remember who got pulled to play in the Open Division to weaken the other divisions. The enthusiasm and support displayed by several hundred Foothill fans on Saturday at the Honda Center in a 1A championship win over Huntington Beach Edison offers a rebuttal to those who think watering down the divisions makes a championship less valuable.

Now it's time to see who really is the best. Last season, St. John Bosco, Chaminade and Bishop Montgomery rejoined their divisions and ended up winning state titles.

Expect the same phenomenon to happen again this season.

Twitter: @LATSondheimer