When Phil Bendik of West Torrance High School took an outlet pass from Tim Stowe and sank a last-second layup to defeat Rolling Hills in early December, he may have provided a gripping introduction to this winter's drama in the Bay League.
West's 80-79 opening victory in the Pacific Shores Tournament had a clearly theatrical ending. But it was also a showcase for teams that may be poised to upstage powerhouse Palos Verdes when league play begins tonight in the South Bay.
"It's like we're coming up into another season," said West Coach Dan McGee. "That win against Rolling Hills seems so long ago. Both teams are probably a little different now."
They may be a little different, but both have the tools to contend for the league title with Palos Verdes, which reached the Southern Section-3-A semifinals last year. Here's a look how the Bay League and some other league races shape up going into tonight's opening games:
- Palos Verdes (8-5)--Palos Verdes returns three starters from last year's semifinal CIF team, so Co-Coach John Mihaljevich's Sea Kings are experienced. But they're coming off the Las Vegas Prep Holiday Classic in which they fell to Las Vegas Western in the consolation quarterfinals.
The Sea Kings have dangerous three-point shooters in point guard John Mika and 6-4 forward Mike Matteoni. Returning starter Jeff Whitley is also a high-scoring threat. Guard Matt Ralph and center Scott Ruston round out the all-senior starting five.
- West Torrance (11-3)--McGee is worried about maintaining momentum into into league play.
"We're playing our best basketball right now," said McGee, whose team has won nine straight. "We're right where we wanted to be. I just hope we can keep it going."
One reason is 6-2 forward Tim Stowe, averaging 21 points per game. Bendik is averaging 17.7 points, and 6-foot guard Denny Hocking, who broke a school record Tuesday night with a 14-assist performance against Mira Costa, is averaging 11.8 points and 7 assists.
West, with four returning starters, could be a dark horse to win the Bay League. The Warriors have shot 60% compared to 39% for opponents and have outscored opponents by a 73-61 margin.
- Rolling Hills (10-4)--"Anybody can beat anybody on a certain night," Rolling Hills Coach Cliff Warren said, despite the fact that the Titans have no returning starters from last year's team that lost in the Southern Section final. "So I think we have a little shot at 'em, an outside chance."
Rolling Hills lacks size, so Warren's outside chance will depend a lot on the three-point gunnery of guards Mark Tesar (a junior) and Steve Clover (a sophomore). But the Titans have an intelligent team and get solid inside play from Hilltop Tournament MVP John Hardy and forwards Charlie Abbott and Stu Talley.
"We're playing unselfishly with the ball right now," Warren said. "If we play more intelligent defense and rebound better, we could have a shot at it."
- North Torrance (4-7)--The Saxons return three starters from the squad that went 7-16 last year: forward Albert Hanneman and guards Roger Yamanaka and Kikuo Nishi.
But Coach Jim Nielsen, who spent the last five years coaching at Mira Costa, has been getting scoring punch from newcomers to the starting lineup: 6-2 forward Dean Taylor and 6-3 center Steve Tessiro. And the Saxons compensate for lack of height with an athletic bench, featuring 6-foot guards Ronald Mataali and Anthony Anetema. Both starred on North's football team last fall.
- South Torrance (5-8)--The Spartans were winless in league play last year, but first-year Coach Doug Mitchell hopes to turn that around with three returning starters.
Six-foot-6 center Kevin Root leads the core of returnees, which also features forward Steve Van Dyke and point guard Pat Lindsey. South has help on the frontline from Steve Fernandez and in the back court from Larry Modena.
- Torrance (3-10)--Forward Brian Sabunas is the sole returning starter for the Tartars, and he's a dangerous shooter from behind the three-point stripe. Unfortunately, he's about the only consistent offensive threat in Torrance's lineup.
Coach Carl Strong's Tartars knocked off San Pedro in the first round of the Pacific Shores Tournament but after a second-round loss to Carson it's been all downhill for Torrance. They suffered through a tough preseason and are coming into league play off back-to-back losses to Lakewood and Redondo.
- Morningside (8-6)--Morningside, in the words of rival Coach Rick Sabosky of El Segundo, has "tradition and talent." They've won the Pioneer three years in a row, and Monarch co-Coach Carl Franklin says his team has the tools to do it again.
"We're more intense this year, even though we lack experience," Franklin said. "We're better all-around and we're prepared for league."