A few hours before a Sierra canyon-hosted Division I regional basketball opener that turned into a party on the go Taffeta crowd in Chatsworth, Toreador’s head coach Derrick Taylor answered the phone in exasperation.
A boy on campus, he explained, bought tickets to Tuesday night’s game against the Trailblazers and sold them for $25. A tip to Sierra Canyon had taught him that it was a freshman on his team.
“What can I say,” Taylor said. “Capitalism at its best.”
Everyone on campus was thrilled, as evidenced by the roar that rippled through the Sierra Canyon gym after Bishop Brooks hit a three-pointer to open the game. Everyone was over the top. Taylor wasn’t. This was a decorated coach with the benefit of hindsight in the days when he and Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier battled it out in the City Section, he and former Cleveland coach Chevalier competed to take on the best kids in the San Fernando Valley Pull.
So everyone walks into the gym against Sierra Canyon, Taylor said, and is intimidated. He’s not tonight. Not are reigning City Section champion Toreadors. They would screw up if the Trailblazers tried to play rough or run with them if they tried to play fast.
“I’m just going to play it by ear, see which one of the styles works,” Taylor said. “Now, if neither works, yes, s-, call 911. There’s a seizure.”
After a back and forth first quarter, the sirens came in the second as Taft just couldn’t run with Sierra Canyon in transition, the Trailblazers blasted the lights and dominated the paint in an 84-47 victory.
Senior Jimmy Oladokun led the way with 16 points with future University of San Diego coach Steve Lavin on court, Ashton Hardaway added 15 with a pair of deep threes, and Noah Williams had 14 and Bronny James had 13.
Twenty years ago, when the high school basketball landscape ran through the City Section, the tables were turned. Chevalier was a young coach trying to beat Taft, his Cleveland program brimming with talent like future NBA player Nick Young, and Taylor had a closet full of future Division I athletes.
Twenty years later, Chevalier rose through the private school ranks, now it’s his turn to captain a roster full of future collegiate talent as private and prep schools reign. And with the exception of a brief stint at St John Bosco, Taylor has remained at City as the talent pool is scarce.
“When you think back on it, you always wonder _ what if it stayed the same?” Taylor said about the changing game. “I don’t cry about it…you adapt to it, or you get consumed by it and you get bitter.”
In front of a packed Valley crowd _ hometown kids like Taft alumnus and “Last Chance U:S2” star Demetrius Calip II were in attendance _ Taft bombed off without a second thought, playing the Trailblazers hard in a 26-20 first quarter. But James yo-yoed in a step back three to push the lead to 10 in the second quarter, and the Trailblazers were out, Taft simply not closing fast enough to shooters in transition and halfcourt.
Chevalier patrolled the sidelines in a suit and tie, a noticeable change in outfit from his usual Sierra Canyon tracksuit. In a final stretch of the season and the Southern Section’s playoff run decimated by injuries and inconsistency, Sierra Canyon had gone 3-7 over the past 10 games, and needed a palate cleanser in the state league.
The mindset, Chevalier said after his outfit change game, was all business.
“Change the mojo,” he smiled. “Do something else.”
In handshake lines after an eventual blowout victory, Taylor pulled his former rival aside, the two exchanging final words the day after an earlier conversation about “where we’re from,” Chevalier said.
“It’s obviously the changing of the guard — the private schools have kind of taken over,” Chevalier said of Taylor. “So it’s a little bit different. But I still respect him for what he did. It’s not easy to win a championship, and he did this year.”
Sierra Canyon advances to the second round of the DI series to face Etiwanda on Thursday.
In other games, top-seeded Sherman Oaks Notre Dame took the lead in the second half to beat Fairfax 84-68. Dusty Stromer scored 21 points and Caleb Foster and Mercy Miller added 20 each. Dante Ogbu added 13 points. Darius Carr scored 27 points for Fairfax. Notre Dame hosts Manhattan Beach Mira Costa on Thursday. Mira Costa defeated San Diego Montgomery 49-45.
The biggest culprit of the night was King/Drew from the City Section. The No. 16 seed in Division II, King/Drew defeated top-seeded Anaheim Canyon 73-65. No. 2nd seed Tesoro received 26 points from Carson Brown in a 60-51 victory over Bakersfield Centennial.
In Division IV, Van Nuys Grant defeated Newport Harbor Sage Hill 59-59 on a three-pointer by DJ Gains with 5.6 seconds remaining.
In Girls’ Division I, Orange Lutheran rallied for a 62-59 victory over City Section Open Division champion Westchester. Granada Hills defeated Torrance Bishop Montgomery 59-57 behind Marianne Boco’s 25 points. No. 16 West Hills Chaminade upset No. 1 Ontario Christian 88-65.
Marina 2, Bakersfield Centennial 0: Samantha Esparza and Sarah Sumrall each had goals in a Division III opener.
Heart 2, El Camino Real 0: The top-seeded Indians became the first team to score against City champion ECR after 15 straight shutouts to win their Division II regional opener. Gianna Costello and Macey Edemann each scored goals.
Bishop Amat 4, Cleveland 1: Lenea Guerrero scored three goals in Bishop Amat’s Division III victory.
Birmingham 2, Montclair 1: Tony Macedo and Oscar Vargas scored goals in the Division I game.
2 St John Bosco, Lakewood 1: The Braves improved to 4-2. Colin Caycedo struckout six and gave up five hits in 6 2/3 innings. Zach Woodson had both RBIs.
Harvard-Westlake 6, St. Francis 1: The Wolverines (4-1) opened the Mission League game with a road victory. Thomas Bridges struckout 10 batters in 4 2/3 innings. Eli Weinbach had a two-run double.
Arcadia 4, Claremont 2: Gabe Lopez improved to 3-0 in 4 1/3 innings. Ian Hoffstetter struckout five batters in 1 2/3 innings. Jerry Carlos had two hits and two RBI’s.