Entering this season, the West Catholic Athletic League boys basketball race was expected to be a tight one, and boy, has it delivered.
After a run of two straight 14-0 league champions and a 13-1 champ last year, the regular season title is still well up for grabs with two games remaining. Mitty, having beaten Riordan 75-71 on Tuesday, holds a one-game lead over Serra. Bellarmine and Riordan sit two games back after the first set of the final three games, all of which are being played among the top four teams.
“Whoever wins this thing has earned it, that’s for sure,” said Riordan head coach Joey Curtin.
Curtin’s Crusaders still have an outside shot at sharing the title, but they’ll need to beat both Bellarmine and Serra at home, while Mitty loses on the road against both of those teams.
Friday’s showdown between Mitty and Serra will have the most hinging on it. Should the Monarchs ruin the Padres’ Senior Night, Mitty will have an outright WCAL title for the fifth time this decade. The Monarchs won four straight league titles from 2011 through 2014. Aaron Gordon, who graduated in 2013 and now plays for the Orlando Magic, helped win three of those.
As Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy knows, though, winning at Serra is far easier said than done. Kennedy, who graduated from Serra in 1995 and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2004, has seen his team win two straight years at his alma mater, but the Monarchs had lost there the prior two years. With Gordon, they won just once at Serra, during his sophomore season in 2011.
The Padres have lost at home just once this year, and like the Monarchs, they’ve developed a penchant for late comebacks, especially at home. They came back from down 12 in the final four minutes against Riordan in January, erased a 20-point halftime deficit in last week’s Jungle Game victory against St. Ignatius, and on Tuesday night, they took their dramatics on the road.
Trailing by as much as nine in the third quarter, the Padres tied it in the final 10 seconds of regulation on a layup by Cade Rees, then won it in overtime on a Rees baseline drive in the final seconds. Rees, a 6-foot-7 senior, led all scorers with 26 points, including eight in the fourth quarter and all seven of his team’s in overtime.
Though the race for the title could end as soon as Friday, the Saturday meeting between Bellarmine and Riordan will still have a lot on the line regardless of what happens in San Mateo. A Serra win Friday night would reopen the race for the title, and even if Mitty does lock up first place, the loser of Saturday’s contest will drop to fourth, setting up a likely first-round matchup in the Central Coast Section Open Division with Menlo-Atherton, by far the best of the public schools in the section. The Bears have lost just three times all year, and those defeats were to Mitty (by 1), Logan (by 6) and Bellarmine (by 10). All three of those games came without M-A’s football players, including starting guard Justin Anderson.
If the seeding format of previous years holds up, the fifth-place WCAL team — likely St. Ignatius — would get the eighth seed and face the WCAL champion in the first round, despite having a stronger resume than any of the other Open Division public schools. The Wildcats certainly wouldn’t mind a rematch with Mitty, having beaten the Monarchs at home and only losing on the road because of tremendous shooting.
Sacred Heart Cathedral will almost certainly be playing in Division III, a field which just got a lot tougher with Monterey likely falling out of the Open Division after a loss on Tuesday. The Toreadores beat Riordan in the 2017 quarterfinals en route to winning the D-III title, and they eliminated the Irish in the semifinals 2018. Riordan was on the ropes in a championship rematch with Monterey, but the Crusaders erased a 12-point deficit to win the section title, 61-56.
On the girls’ side, with Sacred Heart Cathedral’s 59-33 loss to nationally-ranked Mitty, the Fightin’ Irish officially need to win their final two games to qualify for the postseason. They travel to Valley Christian on Friday and host St. Francis Tuesday. With Valley’s last-second win at St. Ignatius, the Wildcats fell to 3-6 in league play, and a loss Friday to Presentation would be damaging to their Open Division hopes. Five WCAL teams are likely to make the Open Division.