Basketball teams from the Valley area usually have as much success in the playoffs as Lassie might have in an Alaskan dog-sled race.
Take them out of their cozy little Valley leagues and they tend to fold up faster than a sow bug.
Cleveland and Simi Valley high schools were defeated in divisional championship games at the Sports Arena last weekend.
Surprised? Not if you have followed high school basketball for any length of time.
Cleveland fell to defending state champion Crenshaw, 95-79, for the City 4-A title Friday night. Muir defeated Simi Valley, 58-55, for the Southern Section 4-A championship Saturday.
The real surprise was that two Valley teams even made it to an upper-division title game.
Valley teams haven't won a City 4-A title in 22 years. Camarillo's 1973 team is the only Valley-area team since 1915 to win a Southern Section boys basketball championship.
Cleveland and Simi Valley teams had one thing in common: Both were overachievers.
Cleveland was The Times' top-ranked Valley-area team in preseason ratings, yet wasn't even favored to win its league--a comment in itself about basketball in the Valley. Simi Valley was favored to win the Marmonte League, but was expected to make an early exit in the playoffs. It was thought that Coach Bob Hawking's Pioneers were still a year or two away.
Cleveland started the season 2-4, but quickly regrouped to win three of its next four games. Then All-American forward Trevor Wilson strained ligaments in his left ankle. The team was off to a 2-0 start in league, but without Wilson, it was expected to spiral right out of the race.
Wrong. The Cavaliers won five in a row and had a two-game lead in the Valley 4-A League when Wilson returned.
"We lost some games early, but we had a lot of injuries," said Bob Braswell, Cleveland's first-year coach. "It seemed a lot of people got down on us then, but we never got down on each other." Not even when people said that Crenshaw and its vaunted press would deal the Cavaliers a 30-point loss.
"They breathe the same air my kids breathe. They go to high school just like my kids go to high school. They put their pants on the same way," Braswell was fond of saying last week before the game. "I know we can play with them."
Braswell was right. For almost three quarters of the championship game, Cleveland and Crenshaw stormed up and down the Sports Arena floor, swishing 20-footers, throwing no-look passes for assists off the fast break and dunking in each other's faces. With a minute left in the third quarter, Cleveland trailed by only five.
"They were playing right with us," Crenshaw Coach Willie West said. "They have a young, aggressive coach and they were playing a fast-paced, aggressive game."
Unfortunately for Cleveland, it was the same style of play Crenshaw loves.
Late in the game, that became obvious, and the Cavalier turnovers came in droves.
"The problem was, when we got past half court, we made one too many passes or took the ball in when we should have taken it back out," Braswell said. "We made errors of enthusiasm. Our inexperience hurt us, and sometimes we didn't make the right decision."
After the game, Braswell talked to his team as a group, and then with each player individually.
"I told them that they should be proud they were out there playing," Braswell said. "A lot of teams weren't. A lot of teams were watching from the stands, wishing they were out there.
"I feel real good about the season we had. I feel blessed to be able to make it to the City finals in my first year as coach. Losing to Crenshaw is no disgrace. That's a fine team. It would have been nice to win, but I told the team that if we give 100% and work hard then I can't complain. We put our hearts and souls in it."
Four starters will return to the Cleveland lineup next season. Only Wilson, who averaged 25.7 points and 15 rebounds, will leave. He has accepted a scholarship to UCLA.
"It's going to be tough replacing No. 4," Braswell said of Wilson. "Players like Trevor don't come around too often. We proved this season that we could win without him. We'll have to do it again next year."
At Simi Valley, Hawking already should be used to hearing talk of next season.
The 1987 and '88 Simi Valley teams were topics of discussion before this season began at Pioneerville.
There were two reasons: Don MacLean and Shawn DeLaittre. Both sophomores, they were Simi Valley's top two players.
"We have a bright future," Hawking said after the loss to Muir. "That doesn't help us much right now, but I suspect that the loss will make us better down the road for the guys coming back. If we can be hungrier, we will."
Only three players will return to the varsity next season, but the three are MacLean, who averaged 21.5 points and 14 rebounds, DeLaittre, who averaged 14.8 points points and 8.9 rebounds and Travis Bice, a sharp-shooting guard who scored 12 points off the bench in the title game.