As usual, there were blowouts and blowups, fast breaks and hard knocks, jump shots and cheap shots. But this also was the season that the Valley-area hardwood was strewn with fallen Goliaths while several Davids made championship game appearances.
Paralleling the script from "Hoosiers," Saugus Coach John Clark choreographed one of the most remarkable championship drives in Southern Section history. Led by senior forward Rusty Morse, who averaged 19 points in the playoffs, Saugus became only the second wild-card team to win a Southern Section title.
The dream season was highlighted with a 66-53, 3-A-championship-game victory over Rolling Hills, which had won 16 straight and was top-seeded in the division. Saugus (23-10) eventually suffered a playoff loss--to Woodbridge of Irvine, 65-53, in the state regional Division II championship game--but that didn't diminish its accomplishments.
This was a team that finished third in the mediocre Golden League. the Centurions lost by 20 points or more three times. Their longest winning streak of the regular season was five games. Then they won seven straight in the playoffs.
Westlake was unable to duplicate Saugus' storybook finish, but its playoff performance was just as surprising. Westlake (21-8) lost its first two Marmonte League games and struggled to a second-place finish. But the Warriors won three playoff games--they beat defending 4-A champion Muir in the quarterfinals--before losing to Santa Monica, 62-60, in the championship game.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 4-A playoffs was not that Westlake reached the final, but that Simi Valley didn't. Behind juniors Don MacLean and Shawn DeLaittre, the Pioneers coasted through their Marmonte schedule and were seeded first in the playoffs. But two games later their season was over after losing to Santa Monica, 55-54, in the quarterfinals.
Granada Hills defeated top-seeded Birmingham, 60-55, to win the City Section 3-A championship. Although Granada Hills finished second to Birmingham in the Northwest Valley League, the Highlanders' victory was not considered an upset. Because of senior center Gary Gray, who was named the 3-A Player of the Year after averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds, the league's coaches considered Granada Hills the division's dominant team from the outset.
In a preseason poll of the league's coaches, however, Birmingham was picked to finish no higher than third. But behind Keith Owens and Ennerea Maxwell, who each averaged 17 points and more than 10 rebounds, Birmingham won 19 straight and won the league for the first time in the school's 33-year history.
Birmingham Coach Jeff Halpern, who next season will be an assistant at College of the Canyons, leaves with a career high school record of 43-6. Halpern was 21-3 at Van Nuys in 1984-85.
Another coach with impressive credentials is Cleveland's Bob Braswell, who guided the no-name, yet balanced Cavaliers to their second straight appearance in the 4-A final. Fairfax routed Cleveland, 86-58, in the championship game and afterward Braswell called it his team's poorest performance of the season. Still, Cleveland was the best the City had to offer against Fairfax, which finished eighth in USA Today's final poll. All four of Cleveland's losses were to Fairfax.
Braswell also became the subject of allegations charging illegal recruiting. Grant Principal Robert Collins said that Braswell recruited players living in Grant's attendance area.
In February, two 10th-graders at Grant testified before the City's Interscholastic Athletic Committee that Braswell had tried to persuade them to go to Cleveland.
The Southern Section's biggest off-the-court controversy was the formation of the San Fernando Valley League--consisting of Notre Dame from the Del Rey League and five Santa Fe League teams--which will take effect in 1988-89. The Southern Section also considered placing Alemany and Crespi in the new league, but the schools balked and will remain in the Del Rey League.
With Kevin Franklin, whose 31.6 average was tops in the Valley, Taft was expected to challenge Cleveland for second place in the Valley League, but the Toreadors' hopes faded when Quincy Watts suffered a broken foot early in the season.
Sean Davis averaged nearly 20 points and 14 rebounds, but was unable to lead El Camino Real to higher than fifth place in the Valley League. El Camino Real did score one of the playoff's biggest upsets, however, as Davis had 30 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Conquistadores past San Pedro, 79-78, in the first round.
Calabasas finished second in the Frontier League and lost in the first round of the Southern Section 2-A playoffs, but it wasn't Steve Ward's fault. Ward averaged 25 points this season and scored a school-record 1,872 points in his four varsity seasons.