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High School Sports

A brief return to normalcy during high school championship Saturday

St. Francis’ Andre Henry takes a shot under pressure from Santa Clarita Christian’s Josh O’Garro during the Southern Section Division 2AA championship game on Feb. 29, 2020, at Azusa Pacific University.
St. Francis’ Andre Henry takes a shot under pressure from Santa Clarita Christian’s Josh O’Garro during the Southern Section Division 2AA championship game Saturday at Azusa Pacific University.
(Raul Roa / Glendale News-Press)

There were no boom microphones overhead during timeouts. There were no documentary crews placing cameras in players’ faces. There were no courtside seats with comfortable cushions being offered because there were no courtside seats.

Welcome to a brief return to high school basketball normalcy at times on Saturday at Azusa Pacific and L.A. Southwest College, where the emphasis was mostly on community schools and their loyal supporters trying to win championships based on having once-in-a-generation teams. Taking selfies with celebrities and posing for TV cameras will have to wait for a few days when Chatsworth Sierra Canyon resumes its state title run.

This is the era parents are joining forces to create super teams because they want a ring, plus exposure to college coaches and social media fandom. It’s as simple as that. The movement of players is pretty extraordinary, and they’re coming to Southern California from all over the world.

All five starters for Santa Clarita Christian’s Southern Section 2AA championship team on Saturday arrived after their freshmen seasons from such places as San Diego, the Canary Islands and Arizona. The Cardinals dismantled La Cañada St. Francis 61-39. Josh O’Garro scored 17 points and 6-foot-8 Kaleb Lowery finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

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“I’ve been doing this 13 years,” St. Francis coach Todd Wolfson said. “That’s an Open Division team — their length, size, athleticism. They check all the boxes for me.”

Altadena Renaissance, with players from Sudan, won the 4AA championship. Los Angeles Ribet won the 2A title behind star guard Tre White, who moved from Texas and was declared eligible on the last day of the regular season.

It’s an interesting dynamic. The CIF keeps stressing it’s overseeing education-based high school sports, but the pendulum is clearly swinging in the direction of schools being more like college and professional teams. Parents are spending hundreds of dollars for private sports training and expect a payout.

Wolfson was being sarcastic in his postgame news conference Saturday but really telling the truth about the challenges ahead.

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“We’ve got a bunch of home-grown local kids that make up our squad,” he said. “Unfortunately our 6-11 center hasn’t checked in yet. We’re still waiting on that inside post presence. Hopefully he’ll check in by the time the state playoffs begin.”

Competitive equity playoffs are supposed to create opportunities for success, and you can always find moments for inspiration from underdogs if you look hard enough.

Palisades won its first City title since 1969 when the boys’ team defeated Harbor City Narbonne 50-38 in the Division I final at Southwest College.

“It’s been 51 years,” said coach Donzell Hayes, a Palisades grad. “I’m just grateful.”

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Santa Monica’s girls’ team was down by seven points entering the fourth quarter of the 3AA final before going on a 15-2 run to defeat Irvine Crean Lutheran 44-40. Chantal Moawad, who has a 4.0 grade-point average and is headed to Brown, scored 23 points.

“We pride ourselves on our defense,” coach Doug Kim said.

Then there was the performance in defeat of St. Francis guard Andre Henry, a four-year starter who signed with UC Irvine. He scored 19 points and kept passing the ball to teammates hoping they’d deliver. The Golden Knights went one for 19 from three-point range.

“I trust every single teammate to knock down a shot,” he said. “I’ve seen all of them knock down thousands of shots every single day. Tonight just wasn’t the night.”

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Said Wolfson: “I have a player who’s a superstar who passes too much. I give him credit for everything he does. He’s got the keys to the car. He can drive it as he wants to.”


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