The 44th annual Bonita Optimist-Barons Holiday Classic basketball tournament rolled out its strongest field in more than a dozen years Dec. 26-30 at Bonita Vista High School. The four-day tournament featured 16 teams — a full bracket of eight girls and eight boys squads — and also some highly competitive games.
It was a major step forward in bringing the tournament back to its former glory.
“For about 15 years we’ve only had a girls bracket but three years ago we decided to go back to running a boys bracket as well,” tournament director John Raue said. “We’re excited about having a full eight boys and eight girls teams. The girls team from Britannia, Canada, couldn’t make it this year but they’ll be back next year.
“We’re obviously trying to make the tournament more competitive but we also want to make the tournament friendly for the local teams to play in, to have a place for the South Bay teams to play.”
South County teams, in fact, helped set the standard at the 2013 edition of the Optimist/Barons tournament.
The Sweetwater Red Devils defeated Canyon Crest Academy 91-61, to win the boys tournament title and, in the process, extend their season opening record to 11-0, while the Chula Vista Spartans recorded a runner-up finish in the girls field after dropping a 66-34 decision to Phoenix Alhambra (Ariz.).
Finals took place on Monday at BVHS.
Burning down the house
The Red Devils finished their four tourney games a perfect 4-0 after previously defeating, in order, Health Sciences (81-23), Monte Vista (92-29) and Olympian (64-45) in pool play.
Canyon Crest (7-6) advanced to Monday’s championship game after dealing pool losses to Bonita Vista (89-66), El Cajon Valley (75-64) and Gompers Prep (56-14).
Boys MVP Spencer Mattox led the Devils with 28 points in Monday’s final while teammate Oscar Picazo poured in 20 points. Riley Adams finished as the high scorer for the Ravens with 13 points.
Sweetwater made a statement in the tournament with its victory against defending tournament champion Monte Vista. The Red Devils, braced by a little better free-throw shooting, could likely have eclipsed the 100-point mark despite playing the final quarter with a running clock.
“I don’t think we’ve had a faster team since we went to state in 1990,” SuHi coach Jesse Aguirre said.
The speedy Devils exhibited all facets of their game in the tournament, particularly their ferocious defense. If anyone has questions about the team’s ability to match up against teams with vastly superior height, they were likely dispelled at this tournament.
“With our press, it brings taller teams down chasing us,” Aguirre said.
Team chemistry is also a key. “All these guys are friends,” Aguirre said. “If something goes wrong on a play, they get back to work to get it right on the next play.”
The SuHi coach said his team was mainly concerned about just getting through the holiday tournament season after playing nine games in 15 days. The Devils have won back-to-back tourney titles — the first in the Sweetwater Host Lions event Dec. 16-21 and now the Optimist/Barons event.
Still, there is an unstated focus farther down the team’s schedule.
“These guys went 28-1 over the offseason and didn’t get much respect,” Aguirre said. “They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder to some extent, and that’s not a bad thing sometimes.”
The Devils will get a clearer picture of where they fit into the section rankings when they host Poway on Saturday, Jan. 4.
Let’s hear it for the boys
Olympian (8-4) capped an impressive tournament showing by topping defending Grossmont Valley League champion El Cajon Valley in Monday’s third-place contest. The Eagles’ lone loss was to Sweetwater in pool play last Saturday.
“I like our speed,” OHS coach Alex Salazar said. “By the time we get to league, we should have a good balance in speed and height. In the past we seem to have had one or the other — we’ve either been tall and clumsy or fast but short.”
Leading the Eagles in the height department are 6-foot-5 senior forward Jordan Fagan and 6-foot-2 senior guard Keion Wallace.
“Jordan obviously has an advantage being six-foot-five and Keion plays like someone who is six-foot-five,” Sanchez said.
Wallace, who earned selection to the all-tournament team, led Olympian with 14 points in the win over ECV.
Bonita Vista finished 1-2 in pool play with a 73-22 win over Gompers Prep and losses to Canyon Crest Academy (89-66) and El Cajon Valley (56-42). The Barons (4-10) closed out tourney play on Monday with a solid 57-43 win over Monte Vista in Monday’s fifth-place game.
Chula Vista improved to 8-4 with the second-place tourney finish. Spartan head coach John DeJesus feels his team, coming off last season’s South Bay League championship and a first-round playoff victory against Otay Ranch, should rank among the contenders for the new Metro-Pacific League title.
Geographic rivals Chula Vista, Hilltop, Sweetwater and Castle Park will compete for the league banner.
“I think it’s pretty balanced between the four teams — I don’t think one team has an advantage over the others,” DeJesus said. “All the teams seem pretty equal. I don’t think there’s one dominant player (in the league).”
DeJesus calls his team “young” this season, though it does possess some key returning talent off last year’s league championship squad.
“It’s still a rebuilding year,” DeJesus cautioned, however.
On-court leadership will be provided this year by junior forwards Maria Tinajero and Danielle Menchaca. Another player to watch this season will be senior guard Bella Julio.
So far, so good.
Tinajero jump-started the season with a 12.0 scoring average per game while Menchaca averaged 10.2 rebounds per game in the team’s first five outings. Tinajero ranked second with 8.4 rebounds per game.
Wins have come against Westview (42-35), Scripps Ranch (34-30), Hoover (38-26), Francis Parker (35-22) and Coronado (49-23) while losses have come against Cathedral Catholic (74-33), Del Norte (40-29) and Imperial (33-30).
Chula Vista finished 3-1 in the four-day event. The Spartans opened with pool victories against Lincoln (60-30), Scripps Ranch (36-21) and Bonita Vista (46-40).
Girls tourney MVP Celeste Lira led Alhambra with 19 points in the championship game.
Hilltop (8-3) captured third place with a 55-29 victory against Bonita Vista to finish tourney play 3-1. Emily Nicholas scored 12 points in the tourney finale for the Lancers while Carol Schroeder led the Barons (6-5) with 13 points.
In other placement games:
Santana topped Scripps Ranch, 46-37, in the fifth place contest. Kimberly Delacruz led all scorers in the game with 32 points in a losing effort.
Southwest finished seventh following Monday’s 37-32 win over Lincoln. Vanessa Fulgencio led the Lady Raiders (4-5) with 17 points.
Hilltop finished runner-up to Alhambra in its pool to qualify for the third-place game while Bonita Vista finished 2-1 in pool play with victories against Scripps Ranch (45-32) and Lincoln (53-22).
“This year we’re rebuilding,” ninth-year BVHS coach Wayne Wooten said. “We’re young but I think we’ll challenge in the Mesa League. The powerhouse is Mater Dei Catholic — they have one of the top three programs in the San Diego Section.”
Schroeder, a 5-10 sophomore, leads Bonita Vista in both scoring (16.5 points per game) and rebounding (11.5 rebounds per game) in 10 game appearances while junior Ashley Quidolit ranks second in team scoring (11.0 ppg).
44th Bonita Optimist/Barons Holiday Classic
Dec. 26-30 Bonita Vista High School
Championship: Alhambra 66, Chula Vista 34
Third place: Hilltop 55, Bonita Vista 29
Fifth place: Santana 46, Scripps Ranch 37
Seventh place: Southwest 37, Lincoln 32
•Lindsey Latson (Lincoln)
•Vanessa Fulgencio (Southwest)
•Savanah Fenn (Santana)
•Kimberly Delacruz (Scripps Ranch)
•Breeana Gafare (Hilltop)
•Carol Schroeder (Bonita Vista)
•Maria Tinajero (Chula Vista)
•Aryanna Coker (Alhambra)
MVP: Celeste Lira (Alhambra)
Championship: Sweetwater 91, Canyon Crest Academy 61
Third place: Olympian 47, El Cajon Valley 44
Fifth place: Bonita Vista 57, Monte Vista 43
Seventh place: Health Sciences 51, Gompers Prep 49
•Kajahn Patton (Gompers Prep)
•Omar Ali (Health Sciences)
•Sta’phon Smith (Bonita Vista)
•Jordan Jackson (Monte Vista)
•Syon Hicks (El Cajon Valley)
•Keion Wallace (Olympian)
•Riley Adams (Canyon Crest Academy)
•C.J. Cadua (Sweetwater)
MVP: Spencer Mattox (Sweetwater)