The feeling of winning a CIF boys basketball championship had barely sunk in Saturday afternoon when Redondo head coach Reggie Morris Jr. reminded his players they still had work to do.
Second-seeded Redondo won its first CIF title since 2002 Saturday with a 68-63 win over top-seeded Westlake in the Division 2A championship game that included nine lead changes at the Anaheim Convention Center. But the soaring Sea Hawks are far from satisfied. They have their sights set on a state championship after winning their 16th consecutive game.
Redondo (23-8) earned the No. 2 seed and will host No. 10 Garces of Bakersfield (20-9) in the first round of the CIF State Division II Regional Championships Wednesday at 7 p.m. The winner advances to play the victor between No. 7 Thousand Oaks and No. 10 Gardena in the second round on Saturday.
Mira Costa (21-10) had its season extended earning the ninth seed in the same division. Coach Jeff Amaral’s Mustangs will travel to the San Joaquin Valley to take on No. 8 Hanford West (19-12) in a 7:30 p.m. contest Wednesday. The winner will likely face top-seeded J.W. North, the team that eliminated Mira Costa in the Division 2AA CIF Southern Section semifinals.
In his first year as head coach of Redondo’s boys basketball program, Morris won his third CIF title after taking Leuzinger and St. Bernard to the championships in 2010 and 2011, respectively. He admitted that winning a CIF championship at Redondo so quickly was a bit of a surprise.
“I would like to say that I saw this day, but not as soon as the first year,” Morris said. “I thought that coming into Redondo we had more talent than we did when we made the run at St. Bernard the first year. I looked at the team we had, just kept trying to stay with it as long as we could and see what we could make out of it. We’ve got believers now, so it definitely is a good experience.”
Senior guard Derek Biale led Redondo with 19 points, including four 3-pointers, and junior guard Ian Fox added 18 points.
“Our effort has been raised to another level this year,” Fox said. “Coach Morris put us through a lot of things that most teams don’t do. I feel that no other high school team works as hard as we do. We do a lot of little things that most teams aren’t disciplined enough to do. I really wanted to get Derek a ring this year. He’s like my brother and it was an emotional win for us.”
“It’s still soaking in. It’s all unreal right now,” Biale said in a post-game interview. “I never really expected this until (Morris) came around, and then I knew the opportunity was possible once he was our coach. It’s been a great experience. It’s been a fun ride. I’m glad in my senior year I got to experience it because a lot of people don’t get this opportunity.”
Redondo enjoyed a 10-point lead in the third quarter, but Westlake tied the score 52-52 with 6:08 remaining.
When Westlake went into foul-mode in the final frame, the Sea Hawk’s perfect performance at the free throw line in the first half dropped to under 50 percent in the second half keeping Westlake in the game.
Fortunately for Redondo, its defense held strong allowing Westlake to connect on only five of 18 three pointers in the second half and forcing 17 turnovers in the game
“We win ugly. That’s how we play,” Morris said. “We’ve been in many of those. We’ve learned how to make ourselves win, no matter what we have to do.”
Morris said that after Redondo’s last loss, a 60-58 defeat on Jan. 5 to Bishop Montgomery (the top seed in Division 4AA) he realized if the Sea Hawks could hold a team close to 60 points, they had a great chance of winning. Westlake had been averaging 78 points per game.
In a physical game that included 49 personal fouls, Morris credited the strength of his bench in the win.
“I think Cameron High and Jeremiah Headley (15 points, seven rebounds) gave us great minutes,” Morris said. “When they (Westlake) got into foul trouble, they weren’t as strong.”
Six-foot-seven power forward Sebastian Lindner recorded 10 points and nine rebounds, connecting on critical free throws in the final minutes. Redondo held Westlake’s six-foot-eight center Marcos Soto to eight points.