state basketball title
BY VINCE ECHAVARIA
The Westchester High School boys basketball team has won the state championship.
There was no stopping the basketball team from achieving what it set out to do this season.
From the beginning of the season, the Comets were focused on capturing three distinct titles — the Western League championship, the Los Angeles City Section championship and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division I championship.
The impressive season came to an end when Westchester cruised to the state Division I championship with a 66-45 victory over Serra High School of San Mateo at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento Saturday, March 19th.
“We felt we would win the city title, but the state title was the goal from the very beginning,” said Brian Henderson, Westchester High athletic director and assistant basketball coach.
“If we had lost the last game of the season (state championship), it would not have been a successful season from the players’ standpoint.”
The victory gave Westchester its fourth state title in school history and third in the last four years.
The team was banned from the playoffs last year because of a recruiting violation ruling by the City Section, which prevented Westchester from competing for a third consecutive state crown.
“After being excluded last year, the kids felt they had something to prove,” Henderson said.
Westchester, which won its first state title in 1998, has earned a 32-2 record in the playoffs since 2000.
After opening the season with a number-one national ranking by USA Today, the Comets (25-3) finished the season ranked second in the country, according to the March 14th USA Today rankings.
Oak Hill Academy of Virginia, one of three teams to beat Westchester this year, finished at the top of the national rankings.
The road to the Division I championship for the Comets was not a cakewalk.
Westchester had to get through its fierce league rival Fairfax High twice in the playoffs, including a narrow 54-53 defeat of the Lions in the Southern California regional final.
Once Westchester had reached the Division I title game, there was only one more team in the way of the Comets’ path to redemption from last season.
Serra High (27-8) was a tough competitor of its own in the Central Coast Section, but the Padres were no match for the Westchester man-to-man defense.
The Comets relied on the same tough defensive attack that toppled opponents all season long, led by senior center Amir Johnson, who finished with five blocks against Serra.
Serra kept up with Westchester for most of the first half and trailed the Comets by 29-25 at halftime.
The Padres struggled against the unforgiving Westchester defense, which continued in the third quarter, when the Comets soared ahead with a 17-0 run for a 50-31 lead.
The Westchester seniors, who were anxious to finish up their high school careers with a state title, came up big on the offensive end.
Amir Johnson scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Guard Ray Reese was also a key factor for the offense with 14 points, including three three-pointers.
Jerard Moret and Marcus Johnson each finished with 13 points in the victory.
The Serra offense was led by junior forward Decensae White, who scored 17 points and had six rebounds.
While the Comets seemed to take care of Serra rather easily, the state championship was just the fulfillment of a season-long expectation.
“It was a job well done,” Henderson said. “We set out to accomplish a goal and we did, so we’re satisfied.”