Boys hoops playoffs: Pressure’s on Maranatha in Division 4A …

After avoiding the open division, the Maranatha High School boys basketball team knew it was headed toward some high expectations in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A playoffs.

The Minuetmen got just that when they were made the division’s top seed when playoff pairings were announced on Sunday. And now the pressure’s on to live up to the advanced billing.

“We’re excited we’re No. 1, but it doesn’t make it easy,” Maranatha head coach Tim Tucker said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re going to go back to work on Monday and try our best to do what we need to do.”

Tucker won two CIF championships when he was head coach at Pasadena. He took over as Maranatha head coach two years with the expectation of turning the program into a Southland power.

The Minutemen were earmarked for the prestigious open division by many pundits at the start of the season, but finished 15-8 and weren’t chosen. An illness to 6-foot-10 post standout Trevor Stanback likely kept Maranatha from being the elite team most thought it would become. The Minutemen host Milken in (10-16) in Wednesday’s first round.

“I’m not happy we didn’t make the open division, but I think it was the right call because we don’t have all our players,” Tucker said. “If we had Stanback, then by all means, put us in the open.

“This one seed is probably one of the toughest seeds around. You’re the one and everybody is gunning for you.”

La Canada and South Pasadena split the Rio Hondo League this season and both drew home games in the Division 3A first round on Wednesday. The Tigers host Burroughs of Ridgecrest while La Canada hosts Mission Valley League runner-up South El Monte.

Also in Division 3A, Gabrielino hosts Monrovia in Wednesday’s first round. The Eagles made easy work of the Mission Valley League this season while Monrovia showed it can be dangerous by upsetting La Canada.

Pasadena parlayed winning the Pacific League into a first-round home game against Rosemead, which got an at-large berth, in Division 3AA. The Bulldogs are the division’s No. 9 overall seed. Muir needed an at-large bid in Division 4AA after finishing out of the top three in the Pacific League. The Mustangs got it, but are on the road against Excelsior Charter in Wednesday’s first round.

Keppel enters the Division 2AA playoffs as one of the hottest teams around. The Aztecs are on a 16-game win streak but face a tall test in such a rugged division. Keppel, the No. 6 overall seed, hosts Arroyo Grande in Friday’s first round.

Renaissance Academy played one of the toughest schedules around and should be ready for whatever Division 1AA holds. The Wildcats host Oxnard Pacifica in Friday’s first round.

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Keppel girls get CIF open division invite (again) …

After a 21-3 regular-season record and Baseline League championship, the CIF open division playoff pairing announcements on Friday afternoon weren’t a matter of if for the Damien High School boys basketball team.

More like a matter of who, when and where.

The Spartans knew they’d be invited to the Southland’s biggest dance and on Friday they got their first-round assignment: a home game against Orange Lutheran (22-4) on Feb. 19.

“We’re really excited,” Damien head coach Matt Dunn said. “If you have a team that you think can compete at that level, it’s an incredible opportunity. I think we’ve earned the right to play in the best of the best tournament.”

Damien was made the No. 5 overall seed. Orange Lutheran is the No. 12 seed. Only one other local boys team made the field and that was Cantwell Sacred-Heart, which went 15-11 and will play at Etiwanda (20-7) on Thursday.

Cantwell made the open division last season and lost its first-game in overtime to eventual champion Mater Dei.

“Our hope was that we would make it,” Cantwell coach George Zedan said. “All along we were trying to schedule and play the best teams that we could play in order to measure ourselves against the best teams in the state.

“The fact that we’re in, we’re excited. We love the idea of the open division. There are no easy games, so I don’t know that seeding matters a ton. I don’t know much about Etiwanda, but I know their coach is a defensive and they’re big and physical and athletic.”

All hope is not lost for teams that lose first-round games. First-round losers go into a consolation bracket where the winner gets an automatic bid to their division’s state playoffs. All first-round winners in the open division are guaranteed a berth in the state playoffs, too.

Keppel’s girls team made the girls tournament for the second consecutive season. The Aztecs went 21-5 in the regular season and were made the No. 10 seed. They will visit Vista Murrieta (20-6) in Wednesday’s first round.

“I figured we’d be in there,” Keppel head coach Joe Kikuchi. “I’m more excited to see what we can do this year. We’ve had that one year of experience of playing in it, so I’d like to see what we can do now.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about them (Vista Murrieta). It’s going to be tough, especially at their house.”

For Damien, the opponent didn’t really matter. The competition is so stiff, it’s not like there are any preferred match-ups, according to Dunn.

“It’s probably the least climactic CIF draw that I’ve ever participated in because you know it really doesn’t matter,” Dunn said. “In a normal division, you know there are only those on or two teams you hope you’re inside the opposite side of the bracket from. But in this tournament, every game is literally like a CIF championship.”

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La Canada and South Pas are co-champs in Rio Hondo League … Pasadena edges rival Muir to secure Pacific League crown …

The stakes were very clear for both the La Canada and South Pasadena High School boys basketball teams on Thursday.

Both teams needed road wins to guarantee at least a share of the Rio Hondo League championship. And for a league that’s had its share of crazy moments this winter, Thursday went surprisingly to form.

La Canada routed Temple City, 66-51. Meanwhile, across town, South Pasadena held off finicky San Marino for a 55-46 win. The Spartans and Tigers are co-league champions.

“It feels right,” South Pasadena head coach David Lutzeier said of winning a share of the league title. “We’ve worked very hard for the last two years. These kids have bought into everything I’ve sold them and shown they’re really capable basketball players.”

South Pasadena improved to 16-7 overall and finished 8-2 in league. San Marino fell to 14-12 overall and 4-6 in league. La Canada finished 20-6 and 8-2. Temple City, which entered the night needing a win over La Canada and a South Pasadena loss to earn a share of the league title, finished 15-11 and 6-4.

All four teams are expected to make the CIF-Southern Section playoffs when the tournament brackets are announced on Sunday. South Pasadena will go as the league’s No. 1 representative after winning a coin flip after Thursday’s games.

PASADENA 67, MUIR 64

The Bulldogs are outright Pacific League champs (again).

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Crazy final week in boys hoops looms

With the announcements of the CIF-Southern Section open division playoff field for boys basketball just days, Maranatha head coach Tim Tucker is finding life on the bubble to be a nerve-wracking thing.

Tucker’s Minutemen enter the final week of the season with a good, not great record of 13-8. But the Minutemen are closing in on the Olympic League championship and feature the leading scorer in the Southern Section in recent Oregon commit Tyler Dorsey, who is averaging 34.7 points per game.

Those factors combined with the high preseason expectations of being one of the Southland’s top 10 teams, make it not hard to see why Maranatha is still in the mix for an open division berth despite not having the most glamorous record around.

The open division was designed to pit up to the best 16 teams in the Southern Section against each other rather than playing in their current divisions. Last season was the first year it was used.

“There’s a good chance we’re in (the open division), but I don’t think we’re an open division team,” Tucker said. “Who have we beat? That’s my thing. I think we’re a good team. Don’t get me wrong. But I don’t think we’re an open division team.”

There’s a caveat to Tucker’s opinion of his team. And that would be 6-foot-10 post player Trevor Stanback, who hasn’t played this season due to an undisclosed illness and likely won’t be back for the playoffs either.

“If we had Stanback, put us in,” Tucker said. “But we don’t have Stanback. So what says we’re an open division team? Chino Hills beat us twice. Long Beach Poly blew us out. We won a close game with Cathedral. Corona Centennial beat us by 30. What says we’re an open division team?

“If we’re an open division team, I will play anybody. It’s not a big deal. I’ve never run from competition and anybody who says Tim Tucker runs from competition is not telling the truth because we probably have the toughest schedule of anybody around this year. But in saying that, the schedule was also made thinking we’d have Stanback.”

RIO HONDO IS WILD TO THE END

Entering the final week of the season, there no less than four teams in the Rio Hondo League still harboring league title aspirations. It figures to be one nutty week.

La Canada and South Pasadena enter the week tied atop the standings with matching 6-2 records in league. Right behind is Temple City at 5-3 in league. Then there’s San Marino at 4-4.

On Tuesday, the first clues will roll in after La Canada visits Blair, Temple City goes to San Marino and South Pasadena hosts Monrovia, which last week caused the chaos by stunning La Canada.

On Thursday, things end stylishly with San Marino hosting rival South Pas, which lost to the Titans at home in late January. That same night, La Canada visits Temple City. Given how the season has gone to date, expect more craziness.

KEPPEL SET TO CELEBRATE

All that stands between Keppel and yet another Almont League title is a home game with Schurr on Tuesday. Win that one, and the Aztecs are league champs with a game left to be played before the regular season is over.

PASADENA IN A DOGFIGHT

Pasadena and Glendale enter the final week of the season tied atop the Pacific League standings. The Bulldogs couldn’t ask for a better way to end the season than what lays ahead.

Pasadena has home games this week against Burbank on Tuesday and Muir on Thursday. The Bulldogs won the first meeting with both teams by double digits, respectively, on the road.

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West proves best … routs East in Hall of Fame All-Star Game …

West

Editor’s note: To the players, thanks for the memories and best of luck in the future!

Different boundaries, different result.

The tweak in geographic areas to pool talent from for the West team in the SGV Hall of Fame All-Star Game for high school football seniors paid big dividends on Friday night.

The West ended a seven-game losing streak in the series with a 31-14 win over the East in the game’s 36th renewal. The East still leads the all-time series 23-11-2.

With the West struggling in recent years, game organizers changed the borders used to pool talent from previously the 605 Freeway to now Azusa Ave. The game was also moved from late spring/early summer to January in an effort to help players get some last-minute recruiting attention before signing day next week.

The West held up much better in the trenches than in year’s past and that’s all its offense needed to put up big numbers. Maranatha quarterback Eli Snyder threw two touchdown passes, both to Crescenta Valley receiver Jordan Lobianco.

Muir defensive back Brian Reyes had two interceptions, one of them he returned for an 82-yard touchdown in the second half to give the West a 31-7 lead. It was part of a dominant effort by the West defense.

The West lead 10-0 at halftime thanks to a 38-yard field goal by Montebello’s Enrique Lozano and a 22-yard touchdown pass from Snyder to Lobianco. Reyna hit UCLA-bound Monrovia receiver Octavius Spencer on a 53-yard touchdown pass and it was 17-0 early in the third quarter.

The East got a little momentum after a turnover lead to a 1-yard touchdown run by Bonita’s Angel Verdugo. Another West turnover gave the East more hope, but the West clamped down and didn’t allow any points.

Snyder’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Lobianco on the ensuing possession made it 24-7. The East tried to answer and was driving when Reyes made his second interception of the night and took it back for a score.

La Mirada quarterback Christian Lara hit Pomona’s Manny Luna midway through the fourth quarter to close out the scoring for the East.

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