Saints vs Everybody: A FTH Open Division Playoff Preview
The drumbeat for most of the season in San Diego was that the Open Division was St. Augustine's to lose.
The Saints did their part in reinforcing this by only losing one game to San Diego competition (a double OT loss to
Grossmont in which they were missing all but two of their rotation players) and completing an undefeated run through a rugged Western League and weren't really challenged.
Now that the playoffs have arrived, it's time to put the theory to the test.
Who are the Saints biggest challengers in the 8-team field, and how does one critical injury impact the rest of the Open Division outlook. We explore here.
(1) St. Augustine (20-7, 8-0 Western) vs (8) Mission Bay (19-8, 4-4 Western)
Background: The two Western League foes will meet for the third time this season, with Saints taking the previous matchups by 18 and 15.
What to expect from Saints:
The Saints are one of the most balanced teams in the section, with five players capable of scoring 20 points a night and who would easily be the top option on most SD teams. They are led by 6-5 junior guard Jurian Dixon, who has become arguably the top prospect in San Diego, regardless of class. But when teams try to slow him down, they have to contend with the likes of 6-3 sophomore guard Ian de la Rosa, 6-1 sophomore floor general Lolo Rudolph, 6-3 jack-of-all-trades Jaden Matingou and the versatile 6-5 junior Derrius Carter-Hollinger, who blossomed since his joining the team after the 30-day sit-out period.
What to expect from Mission Bay:
The Buccaneers have a bonafide star and closer in 6-1 junior guard Angelo Gil, who is one of the top guards in the section. When the team needs a basket or a play, everyone in the gym knows who the ball will go to. A relatively young squad with only one senior (and he's a good one: 6-2 defensive ace Rami Anglo), they have stretches where they show their age, but they also have stretches where they can smother teams defensively and get white hot on offense. 6-7 sophomore Charlie Hutchison has grown up and gotten tougher as the year has progressed, as has 6-1 sophomore shooter Gavin Giraourd, and 6-4 junior forward Thomas Metcalf has improved dramatically as an offensive threat.
Mission Bay will hang around for most of the first half before the Saints pull away behind a raucous home crowd. St. Augustine 76, Mission Bay 57
(4) Mission Hills (21-6, 9-1 Palomar) vs. (5) La Costa Canyon (19-6, 8-2 Coastal NC)
Background: The Grizzlies are 2-0 against the Mavericks this season, losing 61-52 on Dec. 7, then 52-42 in overtime in the quarterfinals of the American Division of the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic.
What to expect from Mission Hills:
The Grizzlies are playing with great confidence heading into the playoffs, a complete 180-degree turn from last season, when they backed into the playoffs off of back-to-back 50-point losses to San Marcos. Justin White is a skilled bruiser in the paint who has taken his game to a different level in his final year. His twin brother, 6-6 Jayden, is a versatile wing who can guard 1-5 at the high school level and is an underrated playmaker. The Grizzlies surround the White twins with shooting, toughness and an underrated group of guards led by 5-7 junior Caleb Hofmeister, 5-10 guard Jack Jillson, 5-11 guard Cam Herrera and 6-1 shooting guard Jake Bishop. 6-4 swingman Kyle Neff, 6-3 wing Logan Papazls and 6-5 forward Trey Vergenz add depth and versatility on the wing.
What to expect from La Costa Canyon:
The Mavs took the next step after last year's D1 finals appearance, making it back to the Open Division playoffs for the first time since 2017. They are led by a trio of good-sized guards and wings, including 6-4 Christian Brown, 6-4 Brayden Hendricks and 6-3 Ty Hendler, who are all capable of big scoring games. 6-2 guard Gabe Tawfilis and 6-7 senior utility forward Vincent Berlucchi round out one of the top starting five rotations in the section. The Mavs size, skill and collective motor have been tough for most teams throughout the year.
In both games this year, LCC came into the games shorthanded. In the first matchup, they were without Brayden Hendricks, in the second matchup, they were missing Hendricks and Christian Brown, among others. At full strength, this will be the game of the night, and I think the Mavs spring the seeding upset. La Costa Canyon 58, Mission Hills 56.
(2) San Marcos (22-5, 8-2 Palomar) vs. (7) San Ysidro (21-7, 12-0 Mesa)
Background: The Knights and Cougars met last Saturday in the featured game of the Battle at the Bay showcase, with the Knights winning 67-61 in the best game of the event. But much has changed since the game, as Knights senior standout and player of the year candidate Devon Arlington injured his Achilles in the final game of the year against Mission Hills, and his father announced on social media that he would not play in the opening round game.
What to expect from San Marcos:
Arlington's injury changes not only the outlook for this game, but the entire Open Division playoffs. The Knights had the lead on Mission Hills when he went down, but without him, the Grizzlies not only took the game, they also won the outright Palomar League championship and knocked San Marcos out of the top seed in the playoffs.
With that said, don't expect San Marcos to go out without a fight. The Knights are a really tough group to score on defensively with their multiple zone looks, and they have a bonafide sharpshooter in 5-8 senior guard Evan Record. Offensively is where Arlington's absence will be felt the most, as he was their go-to in late game situations and when they need a bucket at the end of the shot clock. The Knights will need fellow seniors Max McCall, Lucas Gordon and Record to really step up, as will key reserve Nick Ianniciello.
What to expect from San Ysidro:
The Cougars are one of the most potent scoring teams in the section, and their open, free-flowing transition attack is beautiful to watch when clicking on all cylinders. It all starts with Sebastian Mendoza, the Cougars 6-4 playmaking combo guard who gets downhill effectively in the halfcourt and transition, putting pressure on defenses. 6-8 Martin Flores also is a touch matchup with his size and perimeter skills, and Miguel Figueroa can get hot from deep in a hurry. When those shots don't fall, the Cougars crash the offensive glass hard, where guys like Fran Valenzuela and Andrei Tovar feat on second-chance opportunities.
Without Arlington, the Knights will put up a valiant effort defensively, but won't have enough scoring to keep pace with the Cougars. San Ysidro 68, San Marcos 58
(3) Torrey Pines (22-5, 10-0 Coastal NC) vs Cathedral Catholic (19-9, 5-3 Western)
Background: Torrey Pines defeated Cathedral Catholic 56-44 in the championship of the Armstrong-Horsman Memorial Tournament Dec. 4. This is the third time in three years the Dons and Falcons will meet in the playoffs: Cathedral defeated Torrey Pines in the Open Division title game in 2020, and the Falcons returned the favor in storybook fashion in last year's Open Division championship.
What to expect from Torrey Pines:
Like a metronome, the Falcons have been the model of consistency during the Open Division era. They enter the playoffs winning their 10th straight league title, and did it with an inside-out approach that got better as the year went along. Earlier in the season, the Falcons needed Boston-U bound C Otto Landrum to give them video-game numbers to stay in games against top teams. But as the season progressed, the Falcons role players - as they always do - steadily improved. Senior guard Logan Huston has become an impressive complement to Landrum, and the other starters - especially JJ Bartelloni - increased their production late in the season. Plus, as with every Torrey Pines team, they pride themselves on tough halfcourt defense, a must during playoff runs.
What to expect from Cathedral Catholic:
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after the graduation of the program's most winningest class, the Dons shocked everyone by defeating San Ysidro in their opener, and stayed in the Top 10 conversation most of the year, save for a three-game losing streak during the midseason. The Dons have a dynamic duo in junior guard Shea Fitzgerald and senior wing Jaden Lebel, who average 40 points per game between the two. The development of the role players has proven to be huge for the team: junior guard Thomas Fleming came seemingly out of nowhere to become a reliable third scorer this year, and Dean Lahanas and Boston Bonifay both had solid senior seasons. It's a team that lives and dies by its perimeter shooting, with a touch of scoring off the bounce by Lebel and Fitzgerald.
The Falcons come into the playoffs this year without the target on their backs, as they had the previous season when they entered the playoffs undefeated. But they still have enough fire power to make it to the semis over a tough Cathedral team. Torrey Pines 63. Cathedral Catholic 56.