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Prep Rally: It’s high school basketball championship time

Hi, and welcome to Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s basketball championship time. The Southern Section and City Section championships will be held this week with some great matchups. On Friday, Sierra Canyon will play host to Corona Centennial for the Open Division boys’ title. On Thursday, Santa Ana Mater Dei will play at Corona Centennial for the Open Division girls’ title. The City finals will be Saturday depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s semifinals. Everyone, keep their fingers crossed. So far no forfeits have happened despite continuing COVID-19 testing. That’s an accomplishment itself.

Amari Bailey vs. Centennial guards

Amari Bailey heads toward one of his multiple dunks.
(Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Sierra Canyon hasn’t lost a playoff game since losing to Mater Dei in the 2018 Open Division final. The Trailblazers are going for their third straight championship, and this is one of coach Andre Chevalier’s best coaching jobs. He has relied on the talent of junior guard Amari Bailey, who has been the best player in Southern California, averaging 28 points a game and coming through in the clutch when Sierra Canyon needs him late in games.

Bailey figures to receive lots of attention on Friday from Centennial’s young but talented guards. From Kylan Boswell to Donovan Dent to Jared McCain, the Huskies are relentless on defense and don’t fear making big plays under pressure. They are 20-2. Sierra Canyon is 15-0. Having the championship game at Sierra Canyon is an advantage for the Trailblazers.

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Centennial owes a big thank-you to Damien because it only got into the final after Damien knocked off Harvard-Westlake. Centennial coach Josh Giles used to play for Damien coach Mike LeDuc at Glendora. You can always count on the mentor helping out the pupil.

The girls’ final is a big-time matchup of unbeaten teams. No. 2 Mater Dei thought it deserved to be seeded No. 1 ahead of Centennial, so this game will settle it. Coach Kevin Kiernan has lots of depth and a McDonald’s All-American in Stanford-bound Brooke Demetre. Centennial is at its best when three-pointers are falling, so beware if the Huskies get hot from outside. Centennial is 22-0. Mater Dei is 19-0.

Here’s the link for the schedule ahead.

Fun is back

A visit to the modern Orthodox Jewish school Shalhevet last week gave every indication that the fun is back in high school gyms. Shalhevet supporters were loud, excited and packed their small gym in a 3A quarterfinal victory over El Segundo.

“Electric,” is how coach Ryan Coleman put it.

There was dancing and fans storming the court after the final buzzer.

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Even though Shalhevet lost in the semifinals to Marina, the team will be back in the regional playoffs and could end up hosting another playoff game.

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A movie in the making

Taka Mahe of Wisburn-Da Vinci is a 330-pound basketball player who's headed to UCLA to try football for the first time.
(Pablo Munoz)

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Taka Mahe, 17, is headed on a journey that could lead to a book deal, Netflix series or a movie. Like many adventures, it depends on how it turns out.

He’s a senior at Wiseburn-Da Vinci, a charter school in El Segundo with no football team. He’s 6 feet 6, 330 pounds and a standout for the basketball team. He last played football when he was 13.

While playing for a travel basketball team this last year, he said a staff member for UCLA’s football team spotted him and inquired about his background. His father is from Tonga and being big creates excitement for college recruiters. Suddenly, the conversation turned to whether Mahe would be interested in playing football.

“Me and my parents had a lengthy conversation about my commitment and how I had to be in all the way,” Mahe said. “I’ve been committed for two months.”

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With no idea how to be a lineman, let alone put on pads correctly, he started learning the game two months ago from former San Francisco 49ers great Jesse Sapolu, a four-time Super Bowl winner who has a school for linemen.

“He’s got athletic ability,” Sapolu said. “We’ve been working on his fundamentals trying to introduce how to recognize schemes. There’s no question that kid has great potential.”

He plans to attend UCLA this fall as a preferred walk-on. Here’s the link to his story.

Baseball

JSerra pitcher Gage Jump makes his first playoff appearance on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

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As usual, the pitchers came out in peak form for the start of the Southern Section baseball playoffs.

Omar Serrano of Downey threw a rare perfect game in a 1-0 win over Westlake. Here’s the link to performances of top pitchers on Friday. They included Brian Uribe of Camarillo throwing his fifth consecutive complete-game shutout; Mason Molina of Trabuco Hills allowing no hits and striking out 11 in five innings; Miles Weiss of Thousand Oaks throwing a shutout.

On Tuesday, top-seeded JSerra will play its first game in the Division 1 playoffs, with ace Gage Jump scheduled to start against Capistrano Valley.

Here’s the link to the complete schedule of games. The most intriguing game will have No. 3-seeded Orange Lutheran playing Mira Costa at Hart Park at 6 p.m. Mira Costa held ace Thatcher Hurd from a starting spot on Thursday and only used him in relief so he could pitch against the Lancers. He has signed with UCLA.

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From the archives: Don MacLean

Former Simi Valley, UCLA and NBA standout Don MacLean with son, Kyle, a senior at Westlake.
Former Simi Valley, UCLA and NBA standout Don MacLean with son, Kyle, during senior night at Westlake. Kyle set a school record for threes in a season.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Don MacLean has never seen a shot he didn’t like. During his days at Simi Valley High in the 1980s, he was one of those rare 6-foot-10 big men who could score from anywhere. He led Simi Valley to a Southern Section championship in 1988, became the then Pac-10 all-time scoring leader at UCLA and was a first-round NBA draft choice.

Jim Harrick recruited him to UCLA. He averaged 31.5 points and 12.3 rebounds his senior year at Simi Valley while making 66% of his shots and 88% from the line. He was an offensive scoring machine.

He also was a great player to interview, so it came as no surprise when his playing days ended, he went into broadcasting and was good at it. He says what’s on his mind and doesn’t care if you disagree.

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He’s also a great parent. His son Kyle was a standout at Westlake and he has another son about to enter the high school ranks. Doing well academically is his message. And working hard at the game of basketball.

Noelle Quinn moves to WNBA

It’s not every day that a professional team hires a high school coach. That’s what the Seattle Storm of the WNBA did, promoting Bishop Montgomery girls’ basketball coach Noelle Quinn to head coach.

The former UCLA star has been working with the team as an assistant.

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SoCal connection in softball

Tiare Jennings of St. Anthony is one of the top players for Oklahoma at the Women's College World Series.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Top-seeded Oklahoma is one of six schools in the eight-team bracket at the Women’s College World Series with Southland high school graduates on their rosters.

The freshman of the year is Tiare Jennings of Oklahoma, who starred at Long Beach St. Anthony. She has tied the national record for most RBIs as a freshman with 90. Kinzie Hansen from Norco is hitting .433 with 16 home runs and 45 RBIs. Taylon Snow from Chino Hills has a .343 average.

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Here’s the link to other players to watch. Here’s a feature story on UCLA’s Rachel Garcia, a Highland grad.

Paul Skenes soars

Former El Toro pitcher Paul Skenes is 6 feet 7.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Former El Toro pitcher/designated hitter Paul Skenes enjoyed an amazing freshman baseball season for the Air Force Academy. He was so good that he was named freshman of the year in the Mountain West Conference.

He batted .410 with 77 hits, 11 home runs, 43 RBIs.

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On the mound, he was a perfect 11 for 11 in save attempts.

Track

Harvard-Westlake receiver/triple jumper Jason Thompson
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

At the end of football games, receiver Jason Thompson of Studio City Harvard-Westlake breaks away from teammates and makes his way to the end zone alone.

“I’ll go to the goal posts. I’ll say a prayer,” he said.

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It’s his moment to honor his father, Bobby, who died at age 42 when Thompson was 5. Bobby was Arizona State’s all-time basketball assist leader and used to take his son to the park to shoot baskets.

Thompson’s mother, Shelitta, used to run track at Playa del Rey St. Bernard. His grandfather, Robert, is a member of Arizona’s Hall of Fame for his exploits in football and track in the 1960s. Jason clearly has the genes to do great things in athletic competition, and it’s happening.

On May 1, only two weeks after football season ended, he went 45 feet 7 inches in the triple jump, breaking a 29-year-old school record. On May 8, he won the Arcadia Invitational with a school-record leap of 47-2. Not bad for someone who competed in two triple jumps in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions and continues to learn the meaning of hop, step and jump.

On Saturday, he’ll be trying to win the triple jump at the Southern Section Division 3 championships. Here’s the link to a profile on Thompson.

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There are four divisional championships at four different sites because of COVID-19 restrictions and no Masters Meet and no state championship meet.

Here’s the link to results from last weekend’s prelims.

Road trip to Tennessee

A group of Newbury Park runners decided to bypass the Southern Section track and field championships and start preparing for the fall cross country season by traveling to Tennessee for the Music City Carnival.

Junior Colin Sahlman won the mile in 4:05.79. The Panthers also took places fifth, sixth and seven with Leo and Lex Young and brother Aaron Sahlman. No word if they celebrated with Tennessee barbecue.

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Tennis

Westlake tennis star also plays piano
Westlake tennis star Emma Sun also plays the piano.
(Courtesy Sun family)

The best girls’ tennis team in Southern California is the Westlake Warriors. They won the regional championship with a 5-2 win over Peninsula.

Emma Sun, Essence Wang and Rachel Sherrill all won at singles. Freshmen Ariana Liu and Megan Sun and seniors Cindy Zhang and Emma Victor won at doubles.

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Soccer

Mira Costa's Thomas Southey (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Birmingham on Saturday.
(Nick Koza)

Mira Costa and Harvard-Westlake finished up as the Southern California regional champions in Division I boys and girls soccer. Each had amazing seasons.

Mira Costa, a team of neighborhood kids, knocked off this season’s powers — Servite, Loyola, Cathedral, Loyola, El Camino Real and finally Birmingham in a memorable 4-3 overtime final.

Here’s the link to the Mustangs’ emotional win.

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Then there’s Harvard-Westlake. The Wolverines went 19-0 in girls soccer and no one really came close to beating them. The Thompson sisters finished off an incredible run by combining to score all six goals in a 6-1` win over Pacifica. Alyssa Thompson finished with 48 goals and had four goals in the final. Gisele Thompson had two goals in the final. Alyssa is a sophomore and Gisele a freshman. There’s probably a few more titles left to be won before they graduate.

Volleyball

Mira Costa won the Southern Section Division 1 championship in boys’ volleyball by defeating Newport Harbor.

Here’s the link to a story on the championship match.

Chatsworth won the City Section Open Division boys’ championship over Taft.

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The regional playoffs begin this week. Here’s the schedule.

City Section girls get playoffs

Granada Hills' Hannah Bernstein spikes the ball through Palisades blockers Kaia Kanan and Alexa Hogan.
Granada Hills’ Hannah Bernstein spikes the ball through Palisades blockers Kaia Kanan and Alexa Hogan in the City Section Open Division girls volleyball final.
(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

There were no girls’ volleyball playoffs in the Southern Section. Officials declined to delay the season until the spring, but the City Section did just that, enabling Palisades to win the title on Saturday.

Winning the City Section girls’ volleyball championship is hardly news at Palisades. The Dolphins have done so 31 times since the CIF sanctioned the sport in 1973.

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Palisades’ latest title came in a three-set sweep of Granada Hills, and what made it unique from all the others is that the Dolphins got to celebrate on their home floor, even if the gym was just one-fourth full.

Here’s the link to a report.

Lacrosse

The Southern Section is holding its first lacrosse championships, and Village Christian won the Division 3 girls’ title with a victory over Vista Murrieta.

Here’s the link to this week’s girls’ championship schedule. It will be No. 3 Newbury Park at No. 1 Foothill on Wednesday in Division 1.

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For boys, it will be No. 1 Loyola at No. 2 Foothill on Tuesday for the Division 1 title.

Summer movie time

If it’s the summer, it’s time for a summer sports movie.

“12 Mighty Orphans” opens Friday and tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, the football team of a Fort Worth orphanage who, during the Great Depression, went from playing without shoes — or even a football — to playing for the Texas state championship.

Here’s the link to trailer.

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Recommendations

From 247 Sports, a primer on football recruiting changes and camps going into June.

From ESPN, a story on Bishop Montgomery coach Noelle Quinn becoming head coach of the Seattle Storm.

From 11alive.com, a story in Atlanta about doctors seeing increasing stress fractures in youth athletes.

Tweets you might have missed

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Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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