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SOUTHERN SECTION BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS PREVIEW : Odds Appear to Be Against 3rd Straight Title Matchup : 1-A

February 17, 1988|BARBIE LUDOVISE | Times Staff Writer

Last year, the problem wasn't predicting which teams would meet in the Southern Section 1-A final, but what the outcome would be when they finally got there.

Santa Monica Crossroads and Whittier Christian kept all other 1-A teams out of the picture as they both rolled into the 1-A championship game for the second straight season.

Crossroads defeated Whittier Christian in 1986 and again in 1987.

This year, however, the 1-A division has opened up. Crossroads (14-9) isn't even seeded. In fact, it begins postseason play tonight with a wild-card game against Chaminade (15-9) at home at 7:30.

Whittier Christian (17-6), which has reached the 1-A final in three of the last seven seasons, and the semifinals five of the last seven, is the third-seeded team.

The Heralds will play host to the winner of today's wild-card game between Cathedral (18-6) and Faith Baptist at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Ventura St. Bonaventure (20-2) is the top-seeded team, followed by Beaumont (19-5), Whittier Christian and Brentwood (17-5).

But for the first time in several seasons, many coaches are saying the top-seeded teams may be no better than the rest.

"The parity is incredible this year," Chadwick Coach Tom Meir said. "There's no one dominant team. It's one of the closest races I've ever seen. The title's up for grabs."

Many balked when Jerry Simmons, Orange Lutheran coach, was quoted earlier this season as saying he thought his team had a good chance of winning the Olympic League this season, something Whittier Christian, a La Habra school, has done six of the last seven seasons.

Simmons was right, partially. Orange Lutheran and Whittier Christian finished as co-champions with 10-2 records.

Whittier Christian won the coin flip though, gaining the league's top playoff spot. That forced Orange Lutheran into a wild-card game against Yucca Valley (16-6) at 7:30 tonight. The Lancers share the upper bracket with St. Bonaventure, and could meet the top-seeded team in the quarterfinals Feb. 26.

"That's all right," Simmons said. "If we get that far I'll play them all."

Most say Whittier Christian's fate may lie in the performance of Erik Martin, a senior center/forward who averages 26 points and 15.6 rebounds and is heading for Texas Christian University.

But Martin, who was confined to the inside for much of the regular season, will be moving to the perimeter, according to Bill Cuccia, Herald coach.

"It's a move we've been anticipating for a while," Cuccia said. "We've been waiting for our junior center, Scott Ferguson, to be ready to go inside."

The waiting is over. Ferguson, who is 6-7, is the team's second-leading scorer (13.6 point average) and rebounder (9.2). And in the last three games, Martin has shot 65% from the field and 50% from three-point range.

"I'm very optimistic," said Cuccia, who has a 195-52 record in nine years with the school. "But then I like our chance as well as anyone's. Out of eight leagues (in the 1-A), there were six co-championships. Luck's going to be a big part it."

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