East County Sports

No. 1 Knights cruise past still Tommy-less Foothillers

T.J. Leaf goes for a tribute dunk during Saturday night's playoff win over Grossmont at Cuyamaca College.



By James McHugh
© East County Sports.com

RANCHO SAN DIEGO (2-27-16) – For four years the paths of Foothills Christian’s T.J. LEAF and Grossmont’s TOMMY RUTHERFORD have never crossed. The two East County big men have dominated the San Diego Section scoring and rebounding leader boards for the majority of their careers, but the head to head matchup never came to fruition.


Late last week a series of odd events bumped El Camino from the eighth seed in the Open Division power rankings down to the number one seed in the Division I power rankings. Grossmont made the leap into the eighth seed and found themselves faced with the task of taking on a Knights team who has remained the No. 1 ranked team in the San Diego Section for the entirety of the 2015-2016 season.


Unfortunately, by the time news had rolled around that Grossmont and Foothills Christian would finally be pitted against one another, Rutherford had already sustained an injury which prevented the UC Irvine bound senior from playing the final two games of the regular season for the Hillers. Grossmont is still hoping to have their big man back in time for the State Playoffs.


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Omajae Smith lays in a bucket Saturday night against Grossmont.

Saturday night (Feb. 27) Foothills Christian didn’t appear in any mood to hear excuses or wonder what “could have been”. The Knights, who have played a decisively tougher schedule than the Foothillers, once again showed that even within the section’s open division this year, there are different echelons of teams involved. The Knights laid an 82-45 pounding on Grossmont, led by none other than UCLA bound, McDonald’s All-American, T.J. LEAF. Leaf scored 32 points on 15-21 shooting from the floor while grabbing a game high 12 rebounds.


Without Rutherford in the middle for Grossmont, the Foothillers had little to answer for a Knights team loaded at every position. Foothills Christian led 28-0 before a MATT MURRAY free throw with 46.8 second left in the first quarter gave Grossmont its first point. The Foothillers didn’t land their first field goal until 1:12 into the second quarter when BRANIK BROWN hit one of his two three pointers on the night.


Foothills Christian also received 19-points from senior OMAJAE SMITH who connected on 6-10 shots from the field and 7-11 from the charity stripe. Smith had five rebounds and one of the Knights’ 17-assists on the night.


JACOB NISKEY did all he could to spark the Foothillers, pouring in a team high 12-points and pulling down five rebounds. Murray added 10-points on 2-6 shooting with six points coming by way of the free throw.


Leaf and Smith weren’t the only Foothills players to give Grossmont trouble on the night.


“JORDAN STARR had a great night,” Foothills Christian head coach BRAD LEAF said of his sophomore forward. Starr didn’t obliterate the stat sheet with six points and five rebounds but the young Knight altered a number of Foothillers’ shot attempts in the paint. Grossmont found little refuge heading to Starr’s side of the key while trying to avoid the 6-foot-10 Leaf.


Grossmont will next face Army-Navy who lost 45-40 to Torrey Pines on Saturday night (Feb. 27), in the consolation bracket of the open division playoffs. After the game Coach FRANK FOGGIANO was focused on his Foothillers moving forward and had little to say regarding the upcoming game against the Warriors, “I don’t care about their team, I’ve got enough things to think about with our team. We’ve got to figure our own stuff out.”


Foothills Christian advances to the semifinal round of the open division where they will face No. 4 seeded Torrey Pines next Wednesday (Mar. 2) at Cuyamaca College. Foothills Christian has not lost to a San Diego Section opponent during the 2015-2016 season.


Foothills Christian:  T.J. Leaf 32 (12 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl, 1 blk), Omajae Smith 19 (5 reb, 1 ast, 1 blk, 1 stl), Nikko Paranada 9 (5 stl, 3 ast, 2 blk, 1 reb), Jordan Starr 6 (4 ast, 1 reb), Kale Baldado 3 (5 reb, 3 stl, 1 ast, 1 blk), Connor George 3 (1 reb), Luis Salgado 3 (5 stl, 4 reb, 2 ast, 1 blk), Jordan Van Ommering 2 (2reb, 2 blk, 1 ast, 1 stl), Daniel Hoffman 2 (1 ast), Jaren Nafarrete (1 reb).


Grossmont:   Jacob Niskey 12 (5 reb, 2 ast), Matt Murray 10 (4 reb, 2 ast), Branik Brown 6, Dayveion Crawford 5 (4 reb, 2 ast), Hunter Mulder 4 (2 reb), Jonah Hebl 3 (1 reb), Hunter Gaines 3 (3 reb), Ryan Shirley 2 (1 ast), Alex Lilliard (5 reb), Franklin Golojuch (1 ast).

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