By Phil Dailey
The La Jolla Country Day boys basketball team didn’t exactly appear to be the best Division IV school in San Diego County heading into the postseason, but they sure did when it mattered.
After finishing third in the Coastal South standings, the Torreys were expected by many to compete in the San Diego Section championships, but to take home the title seemed to be a long shot after they were seeded third behind Army-Navy and Francis Parker.
None of that mattered to this group of boys, who not only beat Army-Navy in the CIF semifinals, but blew out No. 1-seeded Francis Parker in the finals, a team they lost to twice — once by 22 and another by 18 — during the regular season.
During the Division IV final last weekend at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, it appeared as though the Torreys would suffer the same fate as the Lancers came out ready to play, dominating the first 13 minutes of the game. But Country Day held on to only trail at the break, 24-20.
“We weren’t defending like we know we can defend,” said Ryan Meier, now in his sixth season as the Torreys’ head coach. “It was our first time here, it was kinda a shock-value type of thing and we had to respond. We were doing just enough to hang around a little bit.”
But whatever transpired in the lockeroom at halftime, the message was received by the Torreys as they dominated the third quarter with a 22-3 run that proved to be the difference as the team captured their first ever Division IV basketball title in convincing fashion, 57-40.
“We knew the first half there were going to be jitters, we were going to be rattled,” Meier said. “But the second half, the guys said, ‘We need to play (defense) better than this.’ ”
The defense was key to slowing the Lancers, but so was the offense. On the game, Sage Burmieister led the Torreys with 16 points while Frank Bamford went for 14.
“The defense definitely generate the offense,” Meier said. “When they feel good about defending they get a different kind of energy and more confidence on their shots, and that definitely played a part in it.”
What looked to be like another defeat against Francis Parker turned into a one-sided affair as the Torreys simply kept the pressure on the Lancers for the final eight minutes of the game, cruising to the championship.
“It definitely was the goal to win CIF. We got a good group of boys. My five starters have been together since they were in third grade,” Meier said. “It was their goal to cap their career with a banner in the gym, a CIF championship.
“This is a great accomplishment even getting here, but they wanted to win.”
Francis Parker standout Dalente Dunklin, who will play next season at UC Santa Barbara, was held to only 13 points.
Girls team also wins title
The Country Day girls, as expected, cruised to the title after topping The Bishop’s School, 64-39. The Torreys (28-1 overall) were led by Malina Hood’s 20 points, while her sister Maya added 13 points and 19 rebounds.
During the tournament, the girls team was not tested much, beating Christian 78-17 and Horizon 74-34 before topping the Knights in the final. USA Today ranks the Torreys as the No. 9 team in the nation this week.
The Country Day boys team was seeded 6th in the state tournament and will face Cantwell Sacred Heart (Montebello), a team that went 25-6 on the season.
That game will be Wednesday night at LJCD at 7 p.m..
“I think we want to go out and definitely represent the county, I think we’re competitive and we have played a really tough schedule,” Meier said.
“We want to get out to the (Los Angeles area) schools and the Southern Section schools and really compete and really show that San Diego has some really good basketball.”
As for the girls’ team, the Torreys were seeded No. 1 in the state tournament in the Southern California Bracket.
They will get a first-round bye and await the winner between Elizabeth Learning Center (Cundahy) and Campbell Hall (North Hollywood). That game is at La Jolla Country Day on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Bishop’s School, which lost to Country Day in the section finals, also advances to the state tournament. The Knights (19-9) and will host St. Paul (Santa Fe Springs) Wednesday at 7 p.m. Go to lajollalight.com for latest results.