Considering that Granada Hills entered the City Section Division I playoffs with an 11-15 record and now finds itself playing top-seeded Crenshaw in Saturday’s 3 p.m. championship game at Cal State Dominguez Hills, you’d have to say the Highlanders are the biggest underdogs of the weekend.
But Coach Don Loperena and his players are embracing their role. They defeated No. 2-seeded Fremont, 54-53, and No. 6-seeded University, 71-69, in overtime to reach the final.
Yes, Crenshaw is 21-4, the defending Division I champion and has a terrific point guard in Chris Kendrick and an effective big man in 6-foot-7 Lamar Harris.
The Highlanders, though, competed in the tough West Valley League. Two seasons ago, they lost to Sylmar, 51-48, in the Division I final. Loperena thought he’d be back soon, but then three players transferrred out.
He rebuilt with young players, and Granada Hills is playing its best basketball. It’s his youngest team in 19 years of coaching, and they are flourishing in their underdog role.
He’s getting solid play from sophomores Jesse Bannout, Chris Howard and Joel Carillo, plus two junior starters, Jonathan Reese and Luke Alviar, who averages 13.1 points a game. Senior Onaje Higgins is at 10.1 points.
The Highlanders will have to deal with Crenshaw’s athleticism, but they’ve already faced Birmingham and Taft, two of the top teams in the Open Division.
They’re 14-15 but Granada Hills is still capable of being a dangerous team in the final.
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