Second Chance Season: A FTH Division 3 Playoffs Preview
Last year around this time, Madison and San Dieguito Academy were two of the most dangerous teams heading into the playoffs, and were on a collision course to meet each other in the second round of D3 bracket.
We know what happened next: The Warhawks season abruptly ended when the team was placed in health and safety protocols, giving the Mustangs a straight shot into the semifinals where they lost to league rival Sage Creek.
Both Madison and SDA stayed in Division 3, and with last year's finalists Hoover and Sage Creek moving up, the two teams sit atop the 16-team field.
Can any team deny them the meeting the two have been waiting for since last June? Here's my preview of the D3 bracket?
Who's the top seed?
San Dieguito Academy
The Mustangs came into the season with a couple of question marks: would the talented but oft-sidetracked Hapgood twins be in the lineup and would last year standout Jackson Garner be granted a fifth year of eligibility by CIF. When both of those questions were answered yes, the Mustangs took off. A fast, albeit undersized group, the team feeds off the energy and defensive prowess of James and John Hapgood, who were among the most heralded freshmen in the 2022 class. Senior stalwart Owen Isachsen is a sharpshooter and a steadying force at the point, and the team's role players don't force the issue. A 6-point loss to Ontario Colony and a 2-point loss to Mission Bay early in the season proved to not be flukes, as the Mustangs won the school's first outright league crown since Lyndon Johnson was president.
Who are the Contenders?
Warhawks head coach Mike Stutz has touted this group since the summer, feeling pretty good about his chances to make the title run his team was denied last year. He returned several significant pieces from last season's team, including 6-5 uber athlete Jake Jackson, a rare three-sport standout (he's signed to SDSU for baseball, was the team's leading receiver in football, and is a two-time all-league basketball player. How's that for a resume?), 6-5 doorstop Marland Jorgensen, improved and athletic 6-3 wing Mason Churchill and 5-11 scoring guard James Kerzic. But the addition of 5-7 freshman PG Joe Angel Cruz has given the Warhawks a game-changing speedster who impacts the game with his playmaking and feisty on-ball defense. The Warhawks are going to be a tough out.
The Falcons game out the gates swinging, opening up with some eye-opening blowouts coupled with a solid performance in the American Division of the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic and a double OT loss to Cathedral Catholic. Brock Flint's team has a bevy of offensive weapons, starting with his son, 6-5 sharpshooter Caden Flint, and undersized but impactful guards Chase Weber and Jared Balaoing. Junior guard Jaiden Schube is a tough two-way player and football standouts Lamont Wilkerson and 6-7 Jax Leatherwood add depth. They came down to earth a bit in league play, finishing 4th place in a very tough City League, but are still a dangerous squad.
I feel like the Foothillers could simultaneously be a favorite and a dark horse because no one ever talks about them - including me. This is a team that grows on you when you watch them. They don't have a single guy who screams "high upside basketball prospect," instead they boast a tough group of defensive minded players who can grind you out and score enough to get wins. Senior guard Aaron Velasco and senior wing Elijah Williams embody this mindset the best, as evidenced in the Foothillers signature win, a 69-68 2OT win over a COVID-shorthanded St. Augustine team. Velasco hit big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter and OT, and Williams defense helped to slow the Saints complementary players enough for the win.
If you had told me that the Tigers would be here after a humbling loss to "little brother" O'Farrell in December, I would not believe you. But credit Carl Fisher and crew for getting it done, as the Tigers would only lose three games the rest of the way and finish 20-6. The strength of schedule is worrisome, but after seeing the Tigers several times this season, they have a lot of intriguing pieces. Junior guard Darnell Green is lightning in a bottle and a dazzling playmaker when he's dialed in. Wings Rayveon Bush and Jonathan Black have length and can beat you on the perimeter (Bush) and in the post (Black), and junior guard Brandon Dimalanta shows flashes of being a really good floor general. If they can avoid the high-turnover games that have led to some of their losses, the Tigers are going to be tough.
Who are the dark horses
The 7-10 winner
Steele Canyon and Point Loma face off in a game that features a ton of good guards. The Cougars bring athletic and fast-rising junior guard Alex Jenkins, senior blur AZ Simpson and fellow senior wing Camrien Hunt, while Point Loma has one of the region's best vertical athletes in Ali Johnson, dynamic wing JT Harris, sharpshooter Rashaun Johnson and underrated complementary pieces Joseph Ursich and John Woodworth. Both of these teams are capable of upsetting higher seeds, but have to get past each other.
The 6-11 winner
As far as scoring goes, Granite Hills has that in plentiful supply, thanks to the dynamic Edmond Brothers. Senior Tre (21.1 PPG) and sophomore Derek (17.1 ppg) average nearly 40 points between the two of them. 6-8 junior Lawand Zanaga might be one of the best junior bigs you've never heard of in SD. If the Eagles can tighten up the ship defensively, they could give teams trouble. But the team they face in the first round, High Tech San Diego, is as Jekyll and Hyde as they come. When they are at their best, they can beat anyone - just ask Madison and Point Loma, who fell to the Storm in league play. On the flip side, if foul trouble rears its head, they can get blown out just as easily.
Players to Watch
John Hapgood, 6-2 Sr. G, SDA
James Hapgood, 6-2 Sr. G, SDA
Owen Isachsen, 6-1 Sr. G, SDA
Jake Jackson, 6-5 Jr. W, Madison
Joe Angel Cruz, 5-7 Fr. PG, Madison
Marland Jorgensen, 6-5 Sr. F, Madison
Caden Flint, 6-5 Sr. F, Scripps Ranch
Jared Balaoing, 5-10 Sr. G, Scripps Ranch
Chase Weber, 5-10 Sr. G, Scripps Ranch
Aaron Velasco, 5-11 Sr. PG, Grossmont
Elijah Williams, 6-3 Sr. G, Grossmont
Darnell Green, 5-9 Jr. PG, Morse
Jonathan Black, 6-3 Jr. F, Morse
Brandon Dimalanta, 5-11 Jr. G, Morse
Tre Edmond, 6-0 Sr. G, Granite Hills
Derek Edmond, 6-3 So. W, Granite Hills
Lawand Zanaga, 6-8 Jr. F, Granite Hills
Alex Jenkins, 6-4 Jr. G, Steele Canyon
AZ SImpson, 5-8 Sr. G, Steele Canyon
Camrien Hunt, 6-3 Sr. G, Steele Canyon
Chase Newman, 6-5 So. G/W, Ramona
Jacob Tovar, 6-1 Sr. G, Central
Jared Martin, 6-3 Fr. W, Central
Seth Johnson, 6-0 Jr. G, Central
Dalton Norvell, 6-1 Jr. G, Ramona
Ali Johnson, 6-1 Sr. G, Point Loma
JT Harris, 6-3 Sr. W, Point Loma
Rashaun Johnson, 6-2 Sr. G, Point Loma
Luke Beesley, 5-9 Sr. G, High Tech SD
Noah Dehrab, 6-4 F, High Tech SD
Tommy Rashad, 6-5 Jr. F, High Tech SD
Stevin Latimer, 7-0 Sr. C, Mission Vista
Jake Henderson, 6-3 Jr. G, Mission Vista
Jayelon Rogers, 6-3 Jr. G, Mission Vista
Mateus Behrend, 5-10 Sr. G, Maranatha Christian
Joel Schwantner, 6-4 Jr. F, Maranatha Christian
Jake Kelly, 6-5 Sr. W, West Hills
Zeid Salem, 6-5 Jr. W, West Hills
Max Conaway, 6-5 Sr. F, West Hills
Julian Garcia, 6-2 Sr. G, Sweetwater
Mekhi Sidney, 5-8 So. G, Mt Miguel
Chris Akridge, 6-0 Jr. G, Mt Miguel
SDA over Mount Miguel
Ramona over Central
Morse over Mission Vista
Grossmont over Maranatha Christian
Scripps Ranch over West Hills
High Tech over Granite Hills
Steele Canyon over Point Loma
Madison over Sweetwater
SDA over Ramona
Grossmont over Morse
Scripps Ranch over High Tech
Madison over Steele Canyon
SDA over Grossmont
Madison over Scripps
Final Madison over SDA