East County Sports

Knights’ night: Open title is formality for Foothills Christian

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Stars T.J. Leaf (right) and Brandon McCoy wrestle during the first half of the San Diego CIF Open Division championship game at Jenny Craig Pavilion on Saturday night. / photo by Ramon Scott

2015-16 PREP BOYS BASKETBALL – SDCIF PLAYOFFS

 

By James McHugh
© East County Sports.com

 

SAN DIEGO (3-5-16) – Foothills Christian’s T.J. LEAF and Cathedral Catholic’s Brandon McCoy put on a show for the ages Saturday night (Mar. 5) in the Championship game of the CIF San Diego Section Open Division at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion.

 

The Knights came away the winners with a decisive 80-63 victory. Leaf finished with 36-points 11 rebounds, six assist and six blocks. With 36 points Leaf also passed La Costa Canyon’s Chase Budinger and Crawford’s Tyrone Shelley on the San Diego Section’s all-time scoring list. Leaf has amassed 2,965 career points, second only to older brother and Assistant Coach TROY LEAF’s 3,318.

 

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Foothills’ Jaren Nafarrete handles the ball Saturday night at Jenny Craig Pavilion. / photo by Ramon Scott

Early on Cathedral attempted to use Reid Johnson in a man to man defense against Leaf, with Brandon McCoy hovering the lane to help. Leaf insisted the matchup had little to do with his decision to drive the lane early. “I don’t think it had to do with them. No matter who was in front of me I was going to go at them and play my game, and it worked for us.” T.J. Leaf said after the win.

 

Leaf scored early and often, but wasn’t alone on the offensive end for the Knights. Sophomore JORDAN STARR had another knockout performance for Foothills Christian as well. Late in the third quarter after much jeering from the Cathedral student section dubbed “Los Locos”, Starr missed the second of two free throw attempts. Seconds later however, JORDAN VAN OMMERING tipped a Cathedral pass loose and T.J. Leaf found Starr cutting to the basket for a monster dunk that had the Foothills faithful in a frenzy.

 

It seemed that each of the Foothills starters had a signature moment while Leaf and McCoy continued to impress for four quarters. Senior guard Nikko Paranada cut through the Dons’ defense and scored on a one-handed scoop shot without leaving his feet in the third, a move Foothills fans have also seen a time or two. Paranada who is deemed “The Silent Assassin” for the Knights, finished with eight points on 4-7 from the field.

 

Freshman JAREN NAFARRETE got on the highlight reel when he floated a teardrop over the seven foot McCoy with just under 5:30 to play in the second quarter and drew the third foul of the night on the Dons big man. The bucket extended Foothills Christian’s lead to eight at 28-20 at that point.

 

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Foothills Christian’s Jordan Starr (right) is well past the basket as his dunk goes through on Saturday night. / photo by Ramon Scott

Senior LUIS SALGADO also added seven points for the Knights and OMAJAE SMITH had 12 to surpass the 1,000 career point mark. Each of the Knight’s four starting Seniors, Leaf, Paranada, Salgado and Smith now have over 1,000 points for their career.

 

Salgado has long been known for his three point shooting prowess, but the senior took to the lane on multiple occasions on the night, which stymied a Don’s defense intensely trying to maintain Leaf.

 

“Definitely the fact that Brandon  (McCoy) was covering T.J. (Leaf) so tight outside it did give us opportunities to drive and get to the basket,” Salgado said of one of the aspects of his game some teams have failed to take notice of just yet. “I feel like they should know I can do that by now, I mean I hope this game shows I can go to the basket and I can not only shoot but be aggressive and go to the hole at the same time.”

 

After the win, head coach BRAD LEAF had praise all around for his team. “T.J. played possessed, Starr keeps building as a big time talent, Luis was his steady self, Nikko orchestrated the offense and Omajae played great defense and attacked the rim.”

 

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Foothills Christian senior T.J. Leaf controls the ball during the first half of the Knights’ San Diego CIF Open Division title game win. / photo by Ramon Scott

T.J. Leaf didn’t diminish last season’s Division II Championship, but insisted the Open Division title is the crown jewel, “They are both huge. Open is obviously better because the teams are so much better, so it’s a huge honor,” Leaf said after his second CIF crown.

 

The Knights learned earlier this week that they will likely be without their rising star Jordan Starr next season. Starr’s father Kelvin has accepted the Head Coaching position at The Master’s College which will result in the family’s move before next season. Starr has had perhaps the two most impressive games of his young career in the Knight’s last two wins.

 

Looking ahead to the state playoffs in the meantime, the Knights are aware that if the chips fall where they lie at the moment, they could be taking another trip up the 5-North to face Mater Dei of Santa Ana once again. The Monarchs have been ranked fourth in the state since defeating the Knights just a few weeks ago. The Knights are ranked fifth in the state and the three teams ahead of Mater Dei are each in the Southern Section (Chino Hills, Sierra Canyon, Bishop Montgomery). So unless the CIF-State seeding committee takes into account the Monarchs’ near 50-point drubbing by Chino Hills last week and the Knight’s CIF title victory, Foothills may be on the road as the state playoffs begin, even as the section’s top team and the only team not to lose a game within the San Diego section this season.

 

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Foothills Christian High School Knights / 2016 San Diego CIF Open Division Champions

Foothills Christian: T.J. Leaf 36 (11 reb, 6 ast, 6 blk, 1 stl), Jordan Starr 15 (3 reb, 3 stl), Omaje Smith 12 (3 reb), Nikko Paranada 8 (3 ast, 3 stl, 2 reb), Luis Salgado 7 (4 reb, 2 stl), Jaren Nafarrete 2 (1 reb), Jordan Van Ommering (2 reb, 1 stl), TJ Lowery (1 reb)

 

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