The road to a Southern Section championship normally is a difficult one. A team must fend off a succession of talented foes to earn a title.
But for unbeaten Santa Clara High, the 2-AA Division playoffs should be easy street. The Frontier League champion Saints were able to stay home for the first round Tuesday because there are only 21 teams in 2-AA, 11 short of the 32 needed to fill out the bracket.
In a second-round game Friday, Santa Clara (20-0) will play host to Pius X, a team that floundered to a 2-18 regular-season record. Pius X defeated Salesian, 104-69, in a first-round game. Salesian, by the way, finished 4-17.
Pius X competes in the tough Camino Real League, which includes 5-AA powers St. Monica and St. Anthony. Still, should a team that finishes seventh in its league and has an uncanny knack for finishing on the low end of a score make the playoffs?
In 2-AA, every team made the playoffs, including Serrano, which fell to Marshall Fundamental in the first round to finish 1-21. Marshall Fundamental (9-14), an at-large team from the Alpha League, visits Nordhoff in a second-round game.
Nordhoff (14-8), the second-place team in the Frontier League, drew a bye. Behind the shooting of Trevor Taylor and Tim Sebek and play-making of Rob Fournier, the Rangers should be able to handle Marshall Fundamental.
Ventura County teams forced to play first-round games did not fare well.
Only Simi Valley among six Marmonte League playoff teams advanced.
Only Rio Mesa among three county Channel League playoff teams advanced.
And only Moorpark among four county Tri-Valley League teams advance.
In other second-round games Friday at 7:30 p.m.:
Simi Valley (18-8) at Fountain Valley (12-13): The Pioneers, the Marmonte League champion, turned back Quartz Hill, 68-59, in a first-round 5-AA game.
Simi Valley is led by a trio of seniors: Guard Steve Carnes (17 points per game), forward Kenny Hood (13.9 ppg; 8.4 rebounds) and center Mike Wawryk (15.2; 8.1). Wawryk scored a team-high 23 points against Quartz Hill.
The Pioneers appear to have a good chance at reaching the quarterfinals after losing to Millikan, 73-61, in the second round last year. Fountain Valley, an at-large team from the Sunset League, struggled in its 70-69 playoff win against Perris.
Crescenta Valley (16-8) at Rio Mesa (13-14): After winning the Channel League title last year, Rio Mesa struggled this season with an inexperienced team. The Spartans finished fourth in the league and received an at-large berth in the 4-A Division playoffs. They responded with a 56-46 opening-round win Tuesday night against Righetti.
The mainstay for Rio Mesa has been senior guard/forward Eric Thomas, a four-year starter who is averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds a game. Thomas was double-teamed most of Tuesday night and held to a season-low seven points. Senior forwards Zilmer Lee and Eric Dyer helped pick up the slack inside.
Rio Mesa's defense will get a tough test in Crescenta Valley, the No. 2 team from the Pacific League. In the Falcons' 70-54 win Tuesday night against Hacienda Heights Wilson, five players scored in double figures.
Crescenta Valley's big man is 6-foot-7 center Paul Matijasevic, who had 13 points against Wilson. But Matijasevic missed the second half of the game after spraining his right ankle. Coach John Goffredo said he expects him to play Friday.
Rio Mesa might have the mental edge, since it defeated Crescenta Valley, 96-66, in the second round of the playoffs last season.
Moorpark (14-9) at Notre Dame (13-10): Brian Lester, a guard who has been Moorpark's steadiest player all season, exploded in the Musketeers' 54-46 victory over Calabasas in a first-round 3-A game. Lester scored 32 points, including 16 in a pivotal fourth quarter when Moorpark outscored the Coyotes, 23-11.
The Musketeer front line of Robert Hernandez, Mike Granderson and Jodie Kitt average about 30 points and 24 rebounds.
Notre Dame, which had a first-round bye, finished second in the San Fernando Valley League. The Knights are led by Bob DeCorsi, who averages about 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists.