Taft edges Fairfax for the City Section Open Division boys’ basketball title
Souljah Niles leaped as high as he could to contest a last-second three-pointer from well beyond the arc by Fairfax guard Darius Carr and the shot fell short, giving Woodland Hills Taft a 64-62 victory in the City Section Open Division championship game Saturday night at Pasadena City College.
Alexander Bothast calmly swished the first of two free throws with 6.6 seconds left for the fourth-seeded Toreadors, but he missed his second shot, Carr got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made his first foul shot to cut the Lions’ deficit to two points and after his second try hit the rim, officials ruled it was last touched by Taft, giving Fairfax a chance to win with 3.4 seconds left. Romello McRae inbounded to Carr, who launched a fadeaway shot that was short of the mark and Toreadors players poured off their bench.
Taft captured its fourth City Section boys basketball championship under coach Derrick Taylor, the first since he returned to his alma mater in 2015, and its sixth overall.
Senior guard Donald Bluitt III led the Lions with 26 points, including a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer that pulled third-seeded Fairfax within 33-32. Carr, a midseason transfer from St. Bernard, added 23 points.
Fairfax scored the first eight points of the third quarter, but Taft responded with a 15-4 run and built a 55-48 lead with four minutes left.
Senior forward and captain Keyon Kensie Jr., a transfer from Simi Valley Donda Academy, led the way for the Toreadors with 21 points, three shy of his season average, and Adam Grissom added 11.
Second-seeded Comets use size to take advantage of top-seeded Highlanders’ foul trouble to win City Section Open Division girls’ basketball championship.
“This ring is for Coach Taylor,” Grissom said afterwards, immersed in a sea of Taft fans. “We did this for him.”
Taylor picked up win No. 503 in his 19th season (two stints) at his alma mater. In his first go-around from 2000-11, he coached Jordan Farmar and Larry Drew to titles. He took over the program again in 2015 after piloting St. John Bosco to the Division III state title in 2014.
“What made the difference was rebounding and our team defense,” Grissom said. “We just had to get stops and execute our plays.”
Fairfax (19-11) was vying for its 10th title, and second straight in the Open Division, having defeated King/Drew 76-64 in the finals last year under coach Reggie Morris Jr., who resigned after three seasons and was succeeded in late July by longtime Lions assistant Jamal Hartwell.
Harvey Kitani piloted Fairfax to four section titles — a 3A crown in 1985, the 4A title in 1987, the City (upper division) championship in 2007 and the inaugural Open crown in 2015.
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