Indications in the preseason pointed toward this year’s Mesa League boys basketball circuit being highly competitive — from top to bottom. At the midpoint of league play, it has indeed proven just that.
The Eastlake Titans and Otay Ranch Mustangs met Wednesday in the Titans’ gym to determine first place in the standings as the only two teams remaining with unbeaten records through the opening round of league play.
Otay Ranch topped Eastlake, 66-37, in a game closer than the final score indicated to go on top. The teams rematch Feb. 15 at ORHS.
But there’s plenty of hoops action between now and then that could place a different spin on that second-round game.
Among Otay Ranch’s five Mesa League victories was a 57-53 overtime decision over Hilltop on the Lancers’ home court on Jan. 21 and last Friday’s 63-61 victory against Chula Vista.
The Titans had their share of first-round battles to reach Wednesday’s match-up of league unbeatens.
Eastlake defeated Bonita Vista, 48-46, on Jan. 21. The Titans topped Chula Vista, 50-43, on Jan. 26. But EHS coach Alex Estrada pointed out the latter match-up was a one-point game with 40 seconds to play.
“I like how the league is this year,” Estrada said. “All the teams have vastly improved. Now we’re at the point where teams can’t have an off night and expect to win. The league is so competitive this year, and that’s going to help all the teams in the playoffs.”
The Titans (13-6 overall, 4-1 in league) claimed a 61-48 road win at Hilltop last Friday. Travis Green led all scorers in the game with 21 points while EHS teammates Adrian Tabula and Jar Garcia each pitched in with 11 points.
Carlos Perez paced Hilltop with 12 points. Omar Hernandez and Keondre Alejandre followed on the Lancers score sheet with nine points each.
The Jan. 21 match-up at the HHS gym pitted the teams’ respective big men — Alex Perez and Carlos Perez.
The hosts held the early advantage, leading 24-21 at halftime and 40-38 entering the fourth quarter. But poor foul shooting down the stretch and a revived Otay Ranch fast break sent the game into overtime after a 51-51 regulation standoff. The Mustangs rang off the first six points of the OT period to claim the win.
Alex Perez, who opened the game with a slam dunk to wow the capacity crowd, led all scorers in the high profile match-up with 26 points. Carlos Perez scored 21 points to lead Hilltop. Andre Jones collected 11 points for Otay Ranch (17-4, 5-0) in the overtime victory while Chris Shaw had 12 points for Hilltop.
Eastlake is fielding a relatively young team this season but appears to be getting the most out of the talent assembled on the hardwood. Aaron Baltazar poured in 23 points in the win over Chula Vista and added 17 points in the victory over Bonita Vista. Gardner had 23 points in a league opening 62-45 win against Mater Dei Catholic.
Alex Perez remains Otay Ranch’s go-to guy. He had 33 points in a league opening 77-50 win over Bonita Vista and dropped in 25 points in a 57-42 victory against Mater Dei Catholic on Jan. 26.
Perez had an almost magic touch in Wednesday’s game at Eastlake with 36 points. Antuione Collins was next on the Mustang score sheet with 13 points — a figure matched by Baltazar, the top Titan scorer.
“We did all the little things and everything worked for us,” ORHS coach Howard Suda said.
Bonita Vista’s Sebastian Kinnamon had 20 points in the loss to Otay Ranch and 14 points in the loss to Eastlake.
Chula Vista defeated Mater Dei Catholic, 58-51, on Jan. 21 in another close Mesa League match-up. Ian Lapuz scored 14 points and teammate Jose Ramirez had 12 points for the victorious Spartans (10-10, 1-3).
Wednesday's other match-up further drove home the parity that exists in the league this season.
Mater Dei Catholic(14-7, 2-3) handed Hilltop (15-7, 2-3) a 54-48 defeat to further dim the Lancers' championship hopes. Myles Nolan-Webb led all scorers in the game with 19 points. Perez and Hernandez each had 13 points for the Lancers.
Chula Vista, meanwhile, finished the first round of league play 2-3 (11-10 overall) with a 67-65 win over Bonita Vista (7-14, 0-5). Travis Waller led BV with 19 points while Thomas Nollie keyed the victorious Spartans with 14 points. Jeff Ayers had 12 points and Avraz Barwari contributed 11 points to the CV victory.
Three teams are tied with 2-3 league records: Hilltop, Mater Dei Catholic and Chula Vista.
(Through Feb. 3)
Otay Ranch 5-0, 17-4
Eastlake 4-1, 13-6
Hilltop 2-3, 15-7
Mater Dei Catholic 2-3, 14-7
Chula Vista 2-3, 11-10
Bonita Vista 0-5, 7-14