These are exciting times at Morningside High where basketball has the school in the grip of state playoff fever.
The girls team is top-seeded in Division I play, while the boys squad is alive in Southern California Division III competition after upsetting top-seed San Diego Lincoln on Tuesday night.
The Southern Section 5-AA champion Lady Monarchs are coming off an easy 88-47 victory over City 3-A champ Marshall and heading toward a showdown with Washington, the City 4-A champ, tonight at Morningside at 7:30.
Sporting a 30-1 record and ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, the Lady Monarchs have reeled off 19 straight victories since losing to Louisville Southern in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions in November.
This season Morningside eked out a one-point victory over Washington. But Washington Coach Phil Chase said he has his team prepared for this semifinal match-up, which will determine who moves on to the Sports Arena for the championship game Saturday night.
“We’re a different team than the one that played Morningside earlier this year,” said Chase, whose team improved to 23-4 with a 71-57 victory over Hanford on Tuesday night. “I believe we’re much better now.”
Washington must contend with 6-5 junior center Lisa Leslie, who again led all scorers in Tuesday night’s victory with 34 points. Leslie has averaged 27.1 points per game in the playoffs while guard JoJo Witherspoon, averaging 18 points, scored 20 against Marshall and took control of the contest with ball handling and direction of the offense.
The Lady Monarchs have been cruising toward this point for the entire season, but the boys team was granted a reprieve when it received an invitation to the playoffs after bowing to Corona Del Mar in overtime of the 3-A semifinals at Redondo High.
If that was not sufficient motivation, Morningside’s opponent tonight is Corona Del Mar, which defeated Tulare Western, 80-47, Tuesday.
The Monarchs enter tonight’s 7:30 contest at Corona Del Mar revved up from an 81-67 victory over Lincoln (27-2), Cal Hi Sports’ top-rated Division III team in the state.
After falling behind early Tuesday night, Morningside (24-5) rallied and was down by one point at half-time at Lincoln.
An 8-0 run to start the third quarter and a 23-13 edge in the period put the Monarchs in the driver’s seat. Morningside outscored Lincoln, 49-34, in the second half.
Guard Kenny Jones scored all of his 14 points in the final 16 minutes, while Chris Vance, who finished with 14, scored 12 second-half points.
Reserve forward James Westbrook led all Morningside scorers with 15 points and Eddie Scott finished with 13.