The CIF City Section Open Division Championships features part three to the storied rivalry showdown for the boys and a division newcomer challenging a former champ for the girls.
On Saturday, the Hamilton Yankees girls’ basketball team will battle the former two-time Open Division champions the Palisades Dolphins at 5:00 p.m. and the Westchester Comets boys’ basketball team will clash against the Fairfax Lions at 7:30 p.m. Both games will be held at Southwest College.
Last week, Southwest hosted the Semifinals which allowed players to get acclimated with the venue for their respective title matches.
In their second Open Division playoff appearance, the Yankees defeated the El Camino Real Conquistadors 60-38 to reach the finals. That game proved to be less of a challenge to the Yankees than their first-round 59-55 win against the Crenshaw where their matchup had four ties and the game remained close until the final seconds.
Against El Camino Real, Hamilton had a 20-point lead late in the third quarter. To execute the win, the Yankees kept the ball on their side of the court with senior forward Kennedee Rankin scoring baskets.
“It’s my last year, I want to finish off strong,” Rankin said. “We got to go out there in the championship game and work hard and hopefully get the dub.”
The reigning Open Division champs the Granada Hills Highlanders started strong against Palisades, creating an 11-6 lead with help from junior Leena Vo. Dolphins junior guard Sammie Arnold and senior center Jane Nwaba found their shot in the second quarter.
“My teammates always push me every play,” Nwaba said. “I knew that I had to do it for them, I had to play hard for them each possession.”
Granada Hills committed to full-court presses in many possessions, but Palisades made key blocks to keep them from scoring. The wealth of shooters that Palisades have lifted them to a 14-point lead. Granada Hills found a consistent scoring rhythm in the fourth quarter but ran out of time. Palisades won 46-43 against Granada Hills.
To reach the championship, the Westchester Comets had to defeat the plucky and determined King/Drew Golden Eagles. A jumper by standout King/Drew senior center Fidelis Okereke gave King/Drew an 11-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Westchester worked to thwart Okereke’s shooting by double-teaming him, he responded by making blocks that thrilled the crowd. The Comets found themselves in the hole by six points at halftime.
“Defense was important because their big man, he was getting easy buckets,” said Westchester junior guard Zion Sutton. “They were getting a lot of layups that we usually don’t let happen.”
Westchester struck quickly with a 7-2 run to begin the second half. A three-point play broke their tie at 34 points in favor of Westchester in the final seconds of the third. Once the Comets secured that lead, they did not look back, winning the game 56-44.
Reigning Open Division champs Fairfax was a dominant force over the Birmingham Patriots throughout the game. The Patriots struggled to score in the first half but erupted with an 8-2 run to being the third quarter.
Yet the Lions had a 10-point lead and bested Birmingham with their diverse shot selection. Fairfax defeated Birmingham 58-39.
“We can shoot the ball really well, we play real fast and we’re in great shape,” said Fairfax junior guard Barry Wilds. “We want to keep that winning tradition going.”