If one had to select a symbol for the new five-division San Diego Section basketball playoff format, the Bonita Vista High boys' team would be the clear favorite.
The Barons represent the true flavor of the five-division free-for-all, in which every team is invited with no restrictions based on such things as records. Bonita Vista entered the Division I playoffs 1-21, and the victory was a forfeit from Mar Vista.
Tuesday night, Mira Mesa beat Bonita Vista, 88-40, in the first round of the Division I playoffs at Mira Mesa High School. No surprises here.
Mira Mesa (12-12), the last-place team from the City Eastern League, advanced to the second round Thursday at fourth-seeded Mt. Carmel (15-9). Bonita Vista, which lost all but one player from last year's team, finished 1-22.
Mira Mesa's David Lee led all scorers with 23 points. He also had eight steals in the first period. Mike Trigg scored 19 for Bonita Vista, including 9 points in the fourth period.
At its best, the new five-division format, which will be used through regional and state play, can be a fair shake to the strong teams from schools with low enrollments. These teams rarely advanced past the first round.
At its worst, the playoffs can be Bonita Vista vs. Mira Mesa.
"It depends on what your purpose is," said Kendall Webb, San Diego Section commissioner. "If your purpose is to have the better teams in the playoffs, you could argue that it is not practical to have a Bonita Vista in there.
"But if it is to let everybody have a chance in the second season, and let them say, 'OK, let's see what you can do,' then it works out. It keeps interest for teams that didn't do very well. It lets them see what they can do in the second season."
This is what happened in the first round of the "second season" Tuesday night:
Mira Mesa opened a 10-point lead (15-5) with 3:25 left in the first period. Mira Mesa took a 20-point lead (27-7) with 7:13 left in the second. Mira Mesa took a 31-point lead (49-18) with 5:30 left in the third. Mira Mesa took a 40-point lead (58-18) with 4:26 left in the third. Mira Mesa took a 50-point lead (72-22) with 7:30 left in the game.
But none of this seemed to matter to the Bonita Vista players, especially someone such as Chris Graham, who began the season as the team's manager and ended it at the free throw line with four seconds to play.
He missed both shots, but with the crowd and his teammates rooting for him to sink his first shot of the season, the smile on Graham's face would make you think he had just hit a 30-footer to win it.
"You never know what can happen in the playoffs," said Steve Milke, Bonita Vista's coach. "I think it's great for the kids to get an extra game. That's what this is really all about--the games."
Even though Mira Mesa was the clear favorite going in, Coach Tim Cunningham warned his team not to take its first-round game too lightly.
"You always have to respect your opponent," Cunningham said. "Even if you do win, you don't want to break down and play lousy, which we did at times."
Cunningham, who acknowledges that his team is a long shot against Mt. Carmel, is in favor of allowing every team into the playoffs.
"This way, everybody gets a share of the excitement of the playoffs," he said. "The juniors can feel the electricity of the playoffs. They will see the big crowds and what can happen with a playoff victory.
"Maybe then they will say to themselves, 'That's what I want next year,' and they will want to earn it. They won't want it handed to them."