Boys Basketball Playoffs: Damien is No. 1 in 3AA, but Pasadena and Bonita are capapble of winning titles too

Damien excited about the No. 1 rankings in Division 3AAA. Will they cash it in for the school’s first title?

By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
Jeremy Hemsley (25) is one of the key players on a Damien team that is seeded No. 1 in the upcoming CIF-SS Division 3AAA playoffs. (Keith Birmingham / Staff Photographer)
After winning 24 of 26 games and sweeping the Sierra League this year, the Damien High School boys basketball team sits atop the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA bracket as the No. 1 seed.

The Spartans now have to hope their play over the next few weeks can justify the lofty seeding.

Damien (24-2) will get started at doing just that in Wednesday’s first round when it hosts at-large entry El Dorado (11-16) at 7 p.m.

“We’re ecstatic to be the

No. 1 seed,” Damien coach Matt Dunn said. “I think that’s a great accomplishment in itself and really shows you we’re consistent throughout the regular season. But to then play a team from a really good league like we do is always a little bit scary.”

Division 1A
Friday’s first-round games

Diamond Bar at Glendale, 7 p.m.
Burbank at Chino Hills, 7 p.m.
Yucaipa at Walnut, 7 p.m.
Division 2A
Friday’s first-round games

Rowland at Don Lugo, 7 p.m.
Glendora at Whittier, 7 p.m.
Baldwin Park at Leuzinger, 7 p.m.
Division 3AAA
Wednesday’s first-round games

El Dorado at Damien, 7 p.m.
Beverly Hills at Arroyo, 7 p.m.
South Hills at Esperanza, 7 p.m.
Cerritos at Bonita, 7 p.m.
Division 3AA
Wednesday’s first-round games

Diamond Ranch at Agoura, 7 p.m.
Rosemead at Torrance, 7 p.m.
Los Altos at Gabrielino, 7 p.m.
Charter Oak at Temescal Canyon, 7 p.m.
Division 3A
Wednesday’s first round games

Tahquitz at Azusa, 7 p.m.
Bishop Amat at Santa Paula, 7 p.m.
Rubidoux at Wilson, 7 p.m.
San Dimas at South Pasadena, 7 p.m.
Santa Margarita at La Puente, 7 p.m.
Gladstone at Estancia, 7 p.m.
Yucca Valley at Northview, 7 p.m.
Pioneer at Covina, 7 p.m.
Division 4AA
Wednesday’s first-round games
Bosco Tech at Workman, 7 p.m.
La Verne Lutheran at Marshall, 7 p.m.

Damien has been led by St. Mary’s-bound forward Chris Reyes, who is averaging 17 points and 11.7 rebounds.

The Spartans also have gotten good production from Jared Dizon, who is averaging 12.7 points.

On Wednesday, the Spartans will have a decided size edge, but that doesn’t mean El Dorado won’t be capable of competing by using its outside game.

“They’re not real big, which is something that will help us a little bit,” Dunn said. “In regards to how they play, they share the ball real well and shoot real well. They were ranked in our poll for most of the year.”

After losing in the semifinals of the Southern Section playoffs for the past three years, the pressure is on Damien to justify this year’s top ranking and get to the championship game, if not win the whole thing.

Pasadena is the division’s No. 2 seed with solid programs in Palm Springs (No. 3) and Palm Desert (No. 4) right behind. Also lurking is local power Bonita, which was given the No. 7 seed after winning the Hacienda League.

But the only way the Spartans would meet their city rival is if both teams reached the championship game.

“I think we have 18 teams in our division that won 17 games or more,” Dunn said. “We’ve been No. 1 in our poll the entire year. I think that’s exciting, but as far as the effect it has on the playoffs, I don’t think it has much. It’s a really consistent division and there’s a lot of teams who probably feel like they have a chance.”

Walnut in deep

Perhaps one of the more difficult postseason draws for an area team belongs to Walnut in Division 1A. Sure, the Mustangs open with a first-round home game against at-large Yucaipa (12-12) on Friday night, but after that they’re likely to face No. 2-seed Capistrano Valley in next week’s second round.

Capistrano Valley has seven players who measure 6-foot-4 or taller, including 6-9 center Chris Bench.

But Capistrano Valley is just one of several tall orders in Division 1A.

The division’s top seed is Mission Viejo. The No. 3 seed is Orange Lutheran, which arguably would have been top seed had Arizona-bound standout Gabe York been healthy for the entire season.

“It’s pretty intense, it’s pretty ridiculous,” Walnut coach Josh Cameron said.

“Unfortunately in basketball, you go outside your league and you go with enrollment (in the playoffs) and give or take how you’ve done the three or four years. We’ve been slightly successful the past few years, so we’re not going to drop (divisions). We have a big school with 3,000 kids. Even though the demographics are a little different from Capo Valley, we still have to compete with them.”

Before the Mustangs can even think about slaying giants, they have to get past Yucaipa. Given Walnut’s youthful lineup this season, it’s anyone’s guess as to which Mustangs team shows up.

“Whenever we play at home in the playoffs the last couple of years, we’ve done really well,” Cameron said. “You’re shooting in front of your own crowd on your own rims. You’re not traveling two hours to play in a strange gym, so that’s always a huge advantage.

“We’re not good enough to even think about second round yet. We need to first focus on the first round. We’ve been so up and down this whole year. We can play really well or really bad sometimes.”

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  • 12th man


    Right-hander Justin Garza of La Verne Bonita went 13-0 last season throwing a fastball between 86 and 89 mph.

    On Saturday, at a major-league scouting bureau showcase in Compton, he was clocked mostly between 91 and 94 mph, according to Coach John Knott.

    That’s scary.

    Bonita was already finding out about Garza’s improved velocity during winter ball. He has been striking out a lot more batters.

    The big winner could be Cal State Fullerton, which signed Garza, though the pro scouts will be following him with increasing interest this spring.

    Garza worked on his strength during the summer. Knott said Garza could only do four pull-ups in a row. After lots of conditioning, he was doing 20 in a row.

    So beware of Justin Garza this season. He’s scheduled to open against La Verne Damien on Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. at home. The radar guns will be locked and loaded.

    — Eric Sondheimer

  • basketball

    Thanks Charlie. This is a basketball thread.

  • tbd