Westchester High School senior Dane Suttle remembers his sophomore year, when his basketball team faced rival Fairfax High School four times in a season in which the Comets captured the state Division I championship.
This season Suttle and the Comets will meet their familiar Western League rival four times once again, as both teams have reached the finals of the state Division I Southern California Regional playoffs.
Westchester and Fairfax are set to battle for the Division I regional championship at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 17th, at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
When the two teams met four times two years ago it was a dominating season for Westchester, as the Comets won each of the major titles that year — the league, city and state championships.
But this season the tides have turned, as it has been the Fairfax Lions (26-5) that have had the upper hand in each of the three previous meetings with the Comets (26-6).
Fairfax won both Western League battles against West-chester to earn the league championship and then defeated the defending Los Angeles City Sec- tion champion Comets in the city finals to take the city crown.
While the Lions have had the edge this season, Suttle said his team is looking forward to getting another shot at dethroning its rival in the Division I regional final.
“It’s gonna be real special,” said Suttle, who has had limited playing time in recent games while struggling with an injury. “We’re gonna have to play Fairfax for the fourth time, just like my tenth-grade year.
“We will have to play hard on defense, stop the penetration and make our shots.”
Since losing to Fairfax in the city final, Westchester has picked up three convincing victories to reach the regional championship game of the state playoffs.
The most recent was a 64-45 regional semifinal victory at home over Helix High School of La Mesa Saturday, March 10th.
Westchester coach Ed Azzam said the Comets felt the disappointment after losing in the city championship, but they have been able to turn things around to give themselves another chance at revenge against Fairfax.
“We were a little deflated after that, but we were still able to put together three good games this week and that says a lot about the character of this team,” Azzam said.
In the game against the Helix Highlanders, a 30-win team this season, Westchester used its aggressive defense to shut down Helix and hand the Highlanders only their second loss of the season.
The two teams were tied 17-17 at the end of the first quarter, but Westchester’s defense turned things up in the second quarter and held Helix to only one point.
The Comet offense began to find its rhythm in the second quarter and went on a 9-0 run led by junior Oscar Bellfield, who scored seven of his 16 points in the quarter, as Helix struggled with turnovers.
After Helix got its only point of the quarter on a free throw by senior Lawrence Hurdle, Bellfield scored a field goal to give Westchester a ten-point lead at the half.
“I thought we played defense very well and the zone bothered them,” Azzam said. “Our kids did a good job of attacking the boards.”
The Highlanders managed to cut the deficit to single digits early in the third quarter, but Westchester kept up the defensive pressure to hold at least a ten-point lead for the remainder of the quarter.
A free throw by junior Jarred Dubois, who scored a game-high 19 points with six rebounds, gave Westchester its biggest lead of the quarter at 14 points, and a last-second three pointer by senior Isaiah Jenkins put the Comets ahead 45-32 heading into the final quarter.
Westchester’s defense prevented Helix from charging back in the fourth quarter and the Comet offense continued to cruise.
Sophomore Dominique O’Connor scored all seven of his points in the final quarter to help Westchester take its biggest lead at 62-42, sealing yet another match-up with the Fairfax Lions.
Jenkins and freshman Dwayne Polee Jr. each added six points for Westchester in the victory.
Helix was led by senior forward Brandon Fountain, who scored 12 points and had five rebounds.