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Mesa League title chase features competitive challenge Phillip Brents | Fri, Feb 03 2012 05:15 PM

This year’s Mesa League boys basketball circuit appears to be a competitive mix. Otay Ranch shaded visiting Olympian, 47-35, to tip off league play on Jan. 18. That same evening, Eastlake opened league play with a 49-41 win at Mater Dei Catholic.

There have been few blowouts or mismatches over the first month of play. In fact, three of the league’s six teams entered the week within one game of first place in the league standings.

A competitive dash to the playoffs seems to be on order for Eastlake (12-9 overall), Olympian (14-7) and Otay Ranch (12-9) — the three teams that have separated themselves from the bottom half of the league.

Olympian coach Alex Salazar called the balance of the league “extremely competitive.”

“On any given night there are four teams that can pull major upsets,” Salazar said. “Overall, I would have to say that the race will come down to three teams — Eastlake, Olympian and Otay Ranch. What makes the league so competitive is that all teams have struggled to score points. It should be a tight race till the end.”

Salazar is correct. Olympian is averaging 59.5 points per game while Otay Ranch is averaging 52.5 points per game, Eastlake 51.3 points per game, Mater Dei Catholic 48.9 points per game, Hilltop 48.0 points per game and Bonita Vista 44.2 points per game.

Defensively, Olympian ranks first in the league by allowing 41 points per game. The Eagles are averaging 14 steals per game.

Eastlake entered the week in sole possession of first place after dealing host Bonita Vista a 71-43 setback last Friday. The victory gave the Titans a 4-0 start in league play and came on the heels of a 41-39 victory against visiting Hilltop two days earlier.

In an early match-up of league unbeatens on Jan. 20, Eastlake rallied to claim a 58-46 win over visiting Otay Ranch to improve to 2-0 in as many league starts.

The Mustangs led 28-24 at halftime after engineering a 20-7 scoring run in the second quarter. However, the Titans won the third quarter scoring battle — 17-10 — to go back on top and closed out the final quarter with a 17-8 run to capture the victory.

In Wednesday’s high profile match-up, Eastlake bettered Olympian, 48-33, to improve to 5-0 in league play. Otay Ranch moved into sole possession of second place by defeating Hilltop 61-50.

Players to watch
Eastlake has been led in scoring thus far by Aaron Baltazar, Travis Gardner and Tyler Katz.

Baltazar, a two-way football standout, owned a team-leading 16.8 point-scoring average through 13 games while Katz had averaged 11.6 points in 16 games.

Gardner, a wide receiver in football who spent much of the 2011 season sidelined by an arm injury, has helped light up the EHS offense by averaging 11.5 points per game in just five games back on the playing court.

Baltazar led the Titans with 16 points in the win over Hilltop while he and teammate Adrian Tabula each had 16 points in the victory against Otay Ranch. Baltazar tipped off league play with a 19-point effort against Mater Dei.

Otay Ranch remained a game behind the Titans in the league standings after topping Mater Dei Catholic, 65-48, last Friday, while Olympian bested visiting Hilltop, 58-44, behind 14 points from Billy Moses, 11 points from Michael White and 10 points from Akeem Foxworth.

White scored 18 points and Moses added 16 points in Olympian’s 76-31 victory against Bonita Vista on Jan. 20. The Eagles grabbed 37 rebounds, including 24 defensive boards, in the win.

The Mustangs improved to 2-1 in league play after defeating Bonita Vista, 68-41, on Jan. 25. Otay Ranch received 14 points from Andre Jones and 11 points each from Andrew Jones and Jorge Reyes.

Free throws
Dejuan Owens keyed Bonita Vista (1-3, 2-19) with a 12.9 game scoring average through 21 games.

Eastlake went 3-1 at both the Fairmont Prep Classic and Spartan Classic holiday tournaments.

Regular season play ends Feb. 16, followed by the San Diego Section playoffs.

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