Coming off a 20 win-season last year and returning two of their top scorers, the Culver City High School varsity basketball team went into the November-December tournament season with confidence.
Seniors Aamahd Walker (averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals a game last year) and Keilan Horton (averaging 15 points a game last year) were fit and many of the newcomers were playing well under coach Jon Chapman’s system.
However, not quite finding their stride, the Centaurs have been playing .500-basketball in the pre-league tournaments with uneven showings.
“We don’t seem to have our foot on the accelerator. We seem to be in idle speed, and that’s not the way we want to play,” said Centaur head coach Jon Chapman.
On the positive side, Chapman said, “One has to remember though that only two of our players have experience at this level. They are still learning.”
New center Isaiah Taylor hauled in 13 rebounds to give the inconsistent Centaurs a boost, but Culver City High School lost 56-52 to the Fremont Pathfinders to finish fourth in the recent Sax Elliot tournament at Beverly Hills High School. Taylor spelled injured all-star Walker, who was named to the All-Tournament Team in the recent Pacific Shores Tournament.
The Centaurs sprinted to a 47-15 halftime lead and topped Hollywood High, 84-46, in the quarterfinals round of the Sax event.
Armani Nicolis was the defensive player of the game with six defensive rebounds. Larryn Zeigler pulled down seven boards. Sal De Leon Ramirez netted 34 hustle points with seven assists. Other leading earners of hustle points were Nicolis (27), Chris Sanchez (24), Diego Martinez (17), Zeigler (17) and Sterling Salvaterra (17).
The Centaurs edged View Park, 74-68, in the first round at Beverly Hills High School, leading by four at halftime and extending the lead by 10 after the third quarter by driving to the rim and getting layups and free throws.
Defensive players of the game were Horton, with five steals and Walker, with eight defensive rebounds. Horton tallied 27 hustle points, Nicolis had 23 and Emanuel Perez contributed 18.
Culver City looked forward to defending its Mira Costa Pacific Shores championship, but things didn’t go as planned.
The Centaurs easily won the first-round matchup against a short-handed Banning Pilots team, 76-51. Both Horton and Walker scored 22 points, and Justin Montgomery had 11 points. Zeigler pulled down 11 rebounds, and de Leon Ramirez had six assists.
After a slow start, the Centaurs found themselves down by 15 points at half-time, 38-23, against the Lawndale Cardinals in the second round.
Mounting a second-half comeback, Walker scored his game-high 29 points all in the second half to lead Culver City’s comeback. De Leon Ramirez hit a last-second, off-balance jumper from behind the key to tie the score at 65-65and send the game into overtime. It was his only basket of the game.
Lawndale regained its composure and won in overtime, 78-75. Horton scored 25 points and Zeigler had 11 rebounds in the loss.
“I felt the boys were not focused on Lawndale because we haven’t had too much trouble playing them in the past. But, guess what? We had trouble with them. Lawndale played really well and we made all kinds of mistakes,” said Chapman. The Centaurs committed 18 turnovers.
After another dismally slow start due to Walker getting into early foul trouble, the Centaurs rallied to upend Bay League opponent Palos Verdes High, 63-53.
The Centaurs outscored Palos Verdes, 40-25, in the second half to win the game going away.
Walker poured in 26 points, Horton scored 19 and Justin Montgomery added six.
Culver City played a solid game, with only six turnovers and had 18 steals in the win. But, the overtime loss to Lawndale meant that the Centaurs would not be able to recapture the tournament championship and their fourth-round play would be for third place against host Mira Costa.
Seeking revenge for its loss to Culver City last year, Mira Costa got it, winning 66-63 and finishing third this year, behind second-place finisher Lawndale and this year’s tournament winner, Brentwood.
Mira Costa and Culver City played evenly the first half, with the Mustangs taking a halftime lead of 33-30. Mira Costa spread its scoring around in the second half, but Culver City relied on its two potent scorers Walker and Horton to keep pace. Horton had 26 points, Walker scored 22 and Montgomery added 11.
Chapman praised the play of Nicolis and Zeigler adding, “The bench [players] came in and sparked our play and that is a good thing to see.”