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Holiday Classic adjusted on fly to keep field viable

In a normal year, the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic is a bustling, five-site, 90-team, smooth-running boys basketball extravaganza with the National Division playing before sellout crowds all four nights at Torrey Pines High.

Certainly there were travel-delay problems as teams flew to the West Coast, but they were minor and easily solvable.

That all changed this season.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging again, the tournament was cut to 68 teams in five divisions at four venues.

Quickly, however, teams — including East Coast powers DeMatha of Maryland, ranked No. 9 in the nation, and New York’s Iona Prep dropped out.

By the night of Dec. 26 — one day before the start of the tournament —13 teams had canceled.

On the morning of the 27th, four more teams decided to stay home.

“It was chaos,” said Griffin Jimenez, tournament chairperson. “We got lucky when the Mt. Carmel tournament was forced to cancel. We picked up several teams there.

“Lincoln, Ramona, Scripps Ranch and Grossmont weren’t on our original list, but all wanted in. We called them last minute, and they all jumped at the chance. That was awesome. We put in eight hours on the 24th, eight more on the 25th and 9½ on the 26th trying to figure things out. For a while, we didn’t know what teams were in what division and who was playing where.

“I don’t know how we did it, but it all worked out, and San Diego teams won two of the four championships.”

(Photos above were taken at the Dec. 27 game between Torrey Pines High School and Bishop Gorman High School at Torrey Pines. Bishop Gorman won the game 67-49.)

Local winners

Mission Hills, which came into tournament week 5-4 and just outside the Top 10, beat Saugus (72-50), San Juan Hills (49-45), Curtis, Wash., (59-55) and Camas, Wash., (63-56) in the American Division title game at St. Augustine High.

Otay Ranch, which entered the week 5-1, beat Vista (75-44), Victory Christian (57-51) and Rancho Buena Vista (64-54) to take the Governor Division at RBV.

White twins lead Mission Hills

Justin White, who stands 6-foot-7, had 24 points in the championship game and was named American Division MVP. Twin brother Jayden, who checks in at 6-6, had his second 15-rebound game of the tournament in the title tilt and was named all-tournament.

“It was a crazy four days,” said Mission Hills coach Curtis Hofmeister. “We played four very competitive games, games that could have gone either way.

“The White brothers played great. Jack Jillson, our point guard, played great. Kyle Neff was the unsung hero, leading us in assists. We’re learning how to win. And we now know we can beat good teams and win close games.”

Otay Ranch proves its worth

Otay Ranch lost to RBV 55-48 on Monday in an out-of-bracket game.

The Mustangs then won three in a row behind Governor Division MVP Elijah Newsome, who had 16 points and six rebounds in the title-game win over RBV.

AJ McIlwain added 14 points, but it was sophomore Percy Whittaker who made the difference.

He scored 21 points — 17 in the fourth quarter as the Mustangs stretched a two-point lead to 10.

“Never had a quarter like that, no, can’t say I have,” said the 6-2 Whittaker, who also had six rebounds. “We just got rolling, the ball came my way, and I got some great passes from Elijah.”

Newsome said the difference between the first game with RBV and the second was defense.

“We didn’t play as hard in that first game as we should have,” Newsome said. “And we decided we weren’t going to let No. 50 (Jesse Snider) and No. 35 (Takoma Rosario) beat us. We played great defense, and defense leads to offense.

“This team is starting to develop some chemistry; we’re starting to get everyone involved.”

Snider had 20 points and Rosario 15, but a combined 13 in the second half when RBV was outscored 37-23.

RBV was playing without coach Aaron Abrams, who came down with COVID on Thursday morning.

The Mustangs won the title without starters Nico Cervantes and Keoni Enriquez, who were in COVID protocol.

Sophomore transfers Adam De La Cruz and Stephen Pangilinan became eligible and picked up the slack.

“This team was 1-12 last season, so we’re trying to change the culture,” said first-year Otay Ranch coach David Kulowitch, who spent three seasons at Ramona.

“We have a way to go, but we’re young, we’re getting into a rhythm, and we’re playing great defense.”

Keian Spandonis joined Newsome on the all-tournament team.

Otay Ranch, which is in the tough Mesa League with Eastlake, San Ysidro, Olympian, Mater Dei Catholic, Bonita Vista and Montgomery, last won a league title in 2011.

Other locals

Carlsbad got 37 points from Jake Hall and beat Santa Fe Christian 87-72 in the third-place game of the Senator Division.

  • Victory Christian Academy edged Lincoln 53-50 to take third in the Governor Division.
  • Mission Bay lost 72-59 to Camas, Wash., in the third-place game of the American Division.
  • Scripps Ranch (12-5), a last-minute addition, went 2-2 in the American Division, beating Spanish Springs, Ariz., (51-49), losing to Camas (66-57), beating El Dorado Hills (57-46) and losing to La Costa Canyon (47-44).
  • Grossmont (7-9), another last-minute addition, had the stunner of the tournament, dealing a short-handed St. Augustine team a 69-68 loss in OT.
  • St. Augustine (9-6) entered the tournament season ranked No. 1 in San Diego, but went 1-4 over the last two weeks.
  • Torrey Pines (10-4) went 2-3 over the last two weeks.

By the numbers

In a normal year, there would be 160 games played in the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic. There were 112 games this year.

Cancellations, COVID and rain hurt attendance and Jimenez said crowds were down — but not terribly — at all four sites.

Crowds at Carlsbad at St. Augustine were decent, and there was a large crowd for Thursday’s National Division title game at Torrey Pines, won by Las Vegas Bishop Gorman 81-73 over Faith Family of Texas in overtime.

Bishop Gorman (14-0) is ranked No. 10 in the nation. Faith Family (18-4) is No. 46.

john.maffei@sduniontribune.com


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