East County basketball reigns in San Diego CIF championship games

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Where Clint Eastwood would ride off into the sunset, three East County schools raced away from the sun and hauled their spoils along I-8. After an action-packed weekend at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, Foothills Christian and El Cajon Valley took home the CIF San Diego Section (CIFSDS) boys’ Division II and D-III titles, respectively, and El Capitan claimed the girls’ D-IV hardware.

Where Clint Eastwood would ride off into the sunset, three East County schools raced away from the sun and hauled their spoils along I-8. After an action-packed weekend at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, Foothills Christian and El Cajon Valley took home the CIF San Diego Section (CIFSDS) boys’ Division II and D-III titles, respectively, and El Capitan claimed the girls’ D-IV hardware.

Fans had no qualms about forking over a fistful of dollars to watch El Cajon Valley take on Grossmont-Valley League rival Valhalla, Angel Eyes to the Braves’ Man with no name. El Cajon Valley, which had already beaten the Norsemen twice during the regular season, finished the season sweep with a 61-49 win. Braves’ guard Ibrahim Ali said the trophy he held in his hands finally silenced the team’s detractors.

“We were doubted,” he said. “They said they were going to win league—we won league, we beat them. They said they were going to win CIF—we beat them. Man, it just feels good to beat all odds.”

Valhalla trailed by 12 points with five minutes remaining in the game but was down by just four points, 49-44, after a 10-3 run was capped by a Jordan Ellis free throw with 2:02 on the clock.

Ali responded by holding the ball just outside the Norsemen three-point line, content to let the shot clock wind down. He then drove towards the baseline and hit a mid-range fade away jumper over Valhalla forward Jake Bassette. El Cajon Valley’s student section erupted.

MVP! MVP! MVP!

Not to be outdone, Braves’ guard Syon Hicks poked the ball free on Valhalla’s next possession and scored on a fast break layup to put the game out of reach. El Cajon Valley coach Marty Ellis said his team was due for the 12-4 run that left the Norsemen on Heartbreak Ridge.

“I knew a run was coming,” he said. “We just didn’t know when it was going to happen. And if you prepare them for the storm, good results happen.”

Tickets to the Foothills Christian game were priced the same as the D-III championship, but the CIF San Diego Section could have easily sold tickets for a few dollars more. Led by six-foot-ten-inch T.J. Leaf, the high-flying Knights ran away with the D-II title against Mira Mesa, 83-41.

Leaf, ESPN’s 16th best junior recruit in the country, scored 33 points, totaled 15 rebounds and said, while the team was disappointed it was passed over for the CIFSDS Open Division, he was proud to win the D-II title.

“The bigger the challenge the better for us,” he said. “But since we’re D-II this year, we’ve just had to go out and show everyone we’re the best D-II team.”

Mira Mesa’s defense kept the game scoreless until Foothills Christian guard Nikko Paranada hit a three-point shot two and a half minutes into the game. The Knights never let the Marauders close the gap and consistently built their lead throughout the game, ahead by 16, 24, 33 and 42 points after each quarter. Head coach Brad Leaf said he was not surprised to see the young squad – none of the 11 Knights on the varsity roster are seniors – dominate the championship game.

“That’s just what we do,” he said. “I’m sorry, we’re playing really well right now. I mean really well. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached.”

Including T.J. Leaf, six Knights are listed as six-foot-four-inches or taller. Coach Leaf said the height creates mismatches.

“They really have no way to guard us,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

El Capitan may forever be unforgiven after its resounding 55-41 victory against the San Ysidro Cougars. Ahead by just five points at halftime, the Lady Vaqueros outscored San Ysidro 20-11 in the third quarter to take a 41-27 lead.

Valerie Renfrow scored 25 points for the Lady Vaqueros and said the win was a team effort.

“I don’t feel like I led the team,” she said. “I feel like if they didn’t pass it to me I wouldn’t have gotten my shots. I don’t feel like I led the team but I just feel like I was the most open. (The Cougars) weren’t expecting it.”

El Capitan will represent East County in the D-IV state tournament as the ninth-seed while seventh-seed El Cajon Valley and twelfth-seed Valhalla could conceivably meet for a fourth time in the D-III bracket if they can both endure the gauntlet to reach the Southern California Regional Finals. Foothills Christian will also be in the line of fire—the Knights were selected for the State Open Division Tournament despite being passed over for CIFSDS Open Division. T.J. Leaf said tournaments in Las Vegas and Torrey Pines have prepared the team for the state playoffs.

“We’ll be playing a lot of the same teams we already played,” he said. “We know the speed of the game and we know that we can compete with just about anyone.”

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