By Pat Turner
District 28-6A’s playoff spots are pretty much decided for the most part.
Brennan (24-6, 16-1) put a lock on the title this past week with wins over Holmes, 60-39, and Warren, 76-56. O’Connor (22-9, 13-4) and Brandeis (20-9, 12-5) are headed to the post-season.
And then there’s the fourth spot, which has turned into a logjam. Going into the final games Tuesday, Stevens (17-12, 9-8), Warren (19-9, 9-8) and Marshall (16-14, 9-8) are tied for the position.
That situation occurred because Stevens defeated O’Connor, 61-48 and dropped a 63-53 decision to Brandeis, while Warren began its week with a 62-54 win over Clark before the loss to Brennan. In the meantime, Marshall rallied in the fourth quarter for victories over Jay, 58-56, and Taft, 75-66.
If a tie remains among the three, a mini-playoff determines the final spot. Before that happens, the Falcons, Warriors and Rams must take care of business in Tuesday’s regular season finales.
Stevens takes on Holmes, Warren plays O’Connor and Marshall faces Brandeis. The pressure is on, but those involved wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re excited to be here,” Marshall coach Bobby Jaklich said. “We’re actually in the playoffs now. We know we have to go out Tuesday and win. We’ve had our backs to the wall, but they’ve kept working and playing hard.”
Against Jay, Marshall was in a 42-33 hole going into the fourth quarter after being held to five points in the third period. At the same time, the Mustangs’ offense was flowing smoothly behind Stevie Sifuentes and Danny Amezquita.
The tables turned in the final eight minutes. The Rams’ began making stops on defense, limiting Jay to 14 points. Marshall’s offense also came to life as Sayvon Frye and Jamal Jackson, who both scored 15 points, joined Diego Walton, who had 10 points with 10 rebounds, to ignite a 25-point outburst.
It was a similar situation against Taft. At one point, Marshall was facing an 11-point deficit after the Raiders got on a roll with Jon-Marc Flores-Diaz, who turned in a 30-point outing. The Rams calmly worked out of the jam with more firepower from Frye (30 points), Walton (15 points) and Haydn Gutierrez (10 points, 10 rebounds), who sparked a 47-point surge in the second half.
“Our kids come ready to play,” Jakich said. “We talked about the different scenarios that could happen (for fourth place) and they were determined to win. They aren’t ready for the season to end.”
Stevens and Warren began their weeks with wins.
The Falcons were locked in a battle with O’Connor with plenty of offensive fireworks in the first half.
While Brendan Wenzel, who scored 18 of his 27 points in the first half, guided O’Connor, 30-26 halftime lead, Khouri Perkins and Carlton Linguard kept the Falcons within striking distance.
O’Connor’s scoring consistency ended in the second half, starting in the third period as Stevens held the Panthers to nine points while taking a 45-39 lead.
Perkins (18 points), Linguard (15 points) and Angelo Samudio continued to push the Falcons in the right direction in the fourth. Once again, the Panthers were held to nine points, enabling Stevens to pad its lead.
A fourth-quarter burst pushed Warren in its win over Clark. The Warriors held onto the lead much of the first three quarters, thanks to the scoring and rebounding of Jayden Campos, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, Isaac Gamboa and Marcus Vaerela. However, Luke Gibson, who finished with 32 points, kept the Cougars close with his inside-outside shots.
After fighting for a 50-45 lead going into the final period, the Warriors got a little more breathing room. Isaac Gamboa popped in eight of his 22 points, and Matt Owens nailed a 3-pointer that gave Warren a 59-49 lead with 5:04 remaining.
However, both teams stumbled Friday.
Brandeis, coming off a 69-62 win over Taft, was on fire against Stevens, pouring in 13 3-pointers, six from Tanner Brown. Even with that sharp-shooting, the Broncos were unable to put away the Falcons until the fourth period.
Brown’s five threes in the first half, coupled with point production from Kyle Schaefer, who finished with 20 points, and Andrew Lazinbat led the Broncos to a 38-32 halftime lead.
“We like to shoot threes,” Brown said. “We have some really good shooters on our team. I was really feeling it. I wanted the ball.”
Like the match with O’Connor, Stevens shined defensively in the third period, limiting the Broncos to five points while pulling within 43-41 on buckets by Linguard, Perkins and Jerene Batts.
Brandeis found its touch in the fourth quarter with more 3-point shooting. Brown and Jordan Wood popped in a pair, while Schaefer knocked in two to up the Broncos’ advantage.
The Broncos also showed their defensive skills. During one stretch, Schaefer hit a jumper following a Stevens turnover. Seconds later, he came up with a steal and pitched the ball to Brown, who followed with a layup.
“We picked our intensity up in the fourth quarter,” Brown said. “We played better defense and started making our shots. We wanted to win this one and get in the playoffs. That’s been our goal all year.”
The victory enabled Brandeis to wrap up a playoff spot, but there’s still a chance at finishing in a second-place tie with O’Connor. The Broncos would need to win and Warren to defeat the Panthers for that to happen. If it does, Brandeis would go into the post-season as the No. 2 because of its two wins over O’Connor in district play.
Still, being in the post-season is a big accomplishment either way for Brandeis, especially since the Broncos weren’t picked to make the playoffs.
“We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year,” Brandeis coach Marc Gardner said. “It is very special to be in the playoffs. We’ve had different guys step up all season.
Warren appeared to have a good shot at taking sole possession of the fourth place during its bout with Brennan.
The Warriors owned a 31-28 halftime lead and increased the advantage to 46-38 midway through the third period on a three from Noah Williams and Vann’s layup.
Warren missed three scoring opportunities inside the paint to regain the lead but managed to tie the score at 47-47 on Varela’s free throw.
Brennan regained a one-point advantage at the end of the period and blew things open in the fourth period with a 26-9 run.
Sanders continued to produce points, but scores also came from Shaydon Campbell and Jayden Moore, who knocked in two threes pouring in 12 of his 19 points in the frame.
Brennan’s defense set the tone, forcing five turnovers.
“We played with more energy,” Moore said. “Jacari brought the energy and got us going. We played better defense. I was trying to play my game. I’ve been in a scoring slump since coming back from my injury. I wanted to help. I felt better shooting.”
After Tuesday’s matchup with Jay, it’s on to the playoffs.
Being 28-6A champions makes the playoff experience even better.
“This is very special,” Moore said. “Everyone has worked hard. This was our goal at the beginning of the year. We knew we had to come out and work for it. We couldn’t let up on teams. We had to play together.”
O’Connor came back with a 69-54 win over Holmes after rallying from an early deficit.
Down 24-18 after the opening period, the Panthers charged to a 19-4 run in the second quarter for a 37-28 lead, before putting together more heroics in the second half.
Adam Benhayoune led O’Connor with 21 points while controlling the boards with Andy Deering (18 points) and Wenzel (10 points).
Roger Gill and DQ Haney paced Holmes with 19 points.
Harlan clinched its 28-5A title with a 58-55 win over Southwest.
Zarion Pitre led the Hawks with 12 points and Michael Bell added 11 as Harlan (20-9, 14-1) reached the post-season during its first season of varsity basketball.