Souljah Niles jumped as high as he could to contest a last-second three-pointer from well outside the arc by Fairfax guard Darius Carr and the shot fell short, giving Woodland Hills Taft a 64-62 victory in the Championship game of the City Section Open Division. Saturday night at Pasadena City College.
Alexander Bothast calmly whipped the first of two free throws with 6.6 seconds left for the fourth-seeded Toreadors, but he missed his second shot, Carr got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made his first foul shot to cut the Lions’ deficit to two points and after his second attempt hit the rim, officials ruled the latter had been touched by Taft, giving Fairfax a chance to win by 3 more, 4 seconds to go. Romello McRae got in on Carr, who launched a fadeaway shot that was too short and the Toreadors players poured off their benches.
Taft captured his fourth City Section boys basketball championship under coach Derrick Taylor, the first since returning to his alma mater in 2015, and sixth overall.
Senior guard Donald Bluitt III led the Lions with 26 points, including a three-pointer during the buzzer that drew third-seeded Fairfax within 33–32. Carr, a mid-season transfer from St. Bernard, added 23 points.
Fairfax scored the first eight points of the third quarter, but Taft responded with a 15–4 run to build a 55–48 lead with four minutes remaining.
Senior forward and captain Keyon Kensie Jr., a transfer from Simi Valley Donda Academy, led the way for the Toreadors with 21 points, three short of his season average, with Adam Grissom adding 11.
“This ring is for Coach Taylor,” Grissom said afterwards, immersed in a sea of Taft fans. “We did this for him.”
Taylor took win No. 503 in his 19th season (two stints) at his alma mater. In his first go-around from 2000-2011, he coached Jordan Farmar and Larry Drew to titles. He took over the program again in 2015 after guiding St. John Bosco to the Division III state title in 2014.
“What made the difference was our team’s rebound and defense,” said Grissom. “We just had to stop and do our plays.”
Fairfax (19-11) was vying for his 10th title and second title in the Open Division after beating King/Drew 76-64 in the Finals last year under coach Reggie Morris Jr., who stepped down after three seasons to become succeeded in late July by longtime Lions assistant Jamal Hartwell.
Harvey Kitani guided Fairfax to four section titles: a 3A title in 1985, the 4A title in 1987, the City (upper division) championship in 2007 and the inaugural Open title in 2015.