Avocado West boys basketball chase tightens up, Mission Hills girls strengthen grip on top spot


The midway point in the Avocado West League basketball season has been crossed and with six games on the ledger the boys’ and girls’ divisions look like the final two weeks are going to present very different pictures. On the girls’ side, it seems as though the championship is pretty much decided but in the boys’ race, things are just starting to heat up. Here’s a quick update on what’s gone down in the past week and where things are headed.

We’ll start with the boys. The section’s No. 2-ranked team, John Olive-coached Torrey Pines, saw the extension of its two-year Avo West reign suddenly put in question Friday after third place Carlsbad posted a 56-55 home victory over the Falcons with junior guard Jailen Nelson sinking the winning bucket 20 seconds short of the final buzzer. The Lancer upset pinned Torrey with its first league loss of the season and snapped its 58-game league winning streak, the last 25 in the Avocado West. The Falcons dropped into a tie for the top spot with San Marcos while fast-improving Carlsbad is lurking just one game back.

“Our defensive effort was much better than when we gave up 77 and lost to them in the first game of the league season,” said Head Coach Sam Eshelman. “The key was defending the post better (TP big man Noah Viera scored 24 in the first encounter). We did a good job denying post entry.

“We’re pretty physical and tried to wear them down. It was like a boxing match and the longer we were close, the more we believed we could win it—and our crowd really gave us an extra push.” Just a sophomore, multi-talented Caleb Nelson racked up 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead Carlsbad. Torrey Pines got big efforts from senior Bryce Pope (20 pts./8 rebounds) and junior Brandon Angel (21 pts./9 rebounds).

The triumph was the Lancers’ fourth in a row and followed a 36-pt. Wednesday thrashing of La Costa Canyon on the road. “The offense is starting to find its rhythm and pace,” Eshelman said. “We’re skilled and when we trust each other and make the extra pass, we can be pretty good. Jailen Nelson (24 pts.) had one of his best games against LCC and everyone made shots that night.”

This week figures to be pivotal in terms of deciding the ultimate outcome in the AW. San Marcos and Carlsbad square off Wednesday while Torrey Pines and San Marcos lock up Friday. Fourth place La Costa Canyon, which is two games out of first and would need a ton of things to go right to get back in the title hunt, visits Carlsbad on Friday.

La Costa Canyon and Canyon Crest both took advantage of cellar-dwelling Mission Hills last week. LCC bounced back from its loss to Carlsbad with a 61-45 conquest of the Grizzlies Friday while CCA prevailed, 59-55, Wednesday for its first win of the Avo West campaign.

In a showdown between the No. 1 and two teams on the girls’ side, defending league champion La Costa Canyon produced a valiant effort on its home court against front-running Mission Hills Friday but came up short, 66-56. The victory gave the winners a two-game advantage over LCC and with four to go virtually assured them of the title in their first year as members of the league

Led by senior Susie Reynoso with 15 points, Coach Chris Kroesch’s Grizzlies put four girls in double figures and showed championship mettle by recovering from a 17-4 opening blitz by the Mavericks. Junior Katie Quain paced LCC with 21 points and the hosts were still within four in the late going before Mission Hills hit eight free throws to stretch the margin when the Mavs were forced to foul.

“We came in prepared and a had a hot start—we were hitting shots and they weren’t,” said first-year LCC Head Coach Caitlin Eichlin. “But they warmed up and adjusted—Chris is a super smart guy—and we let them back in. It was a nice turnaround from our first game with them (a 20-pt. Mission Hills win) and overall, I was happy with the way we played.” Junior Hannah Etheridge added 10 points and senior Alexis Machain chipped in with 10 and was instrumental in holding MH star Kathryn Neff to just three buckets. Kroesch was impressed with both LCC’s start and his own team’s response.

“It was a good game and LCC played great, you have to give their players and coaches credit,” said Kroesch. “They were the aggressors early, really hitting the offensive boards and getting every loose ball.

“But we got our bearings, settled down and controlled the tempo after that first part of the game. They were taking away our threes, so we started attacking the rim and found success there.” Mission Hills has now won 55 straight league games (covering several different leagues) and is in search of its sixth league crown in a row.

On the other end of the table, fifth place Carlsbad, behind a 22-pt./10 rebound show from senior Ari Pagan, upended visiting Torrey Pines, 63-46, reversing a five-point Jan. 9 loss to the Falcons. Coming on the heels of a rollercoaster three-game stretch where her team went 1-2 with all of the games decided by 20 or more points, Carlsbad Head Coach Donna Huhn is hoping Friday’s result will get the Lancers on the path to more consistency.

“We never play well there, they scored 15 points off offensive rebounds and we were only beat by five,” said Huhn, alluding to the earlier loss to the Falcons. “We couldn’t rebound so we went back to basics, making sure we got a body on someone and simply outworked them.

“We also got a bit lucky. Torrey Pines had a bad game and we were making shots—and when Ari has a night like that, we’ll win a lot of games.”

Wednesday, Torrey Pines beat a struggling San Marcos outfit that has had difficulty recovering from a season-ending knee injury to star senior Sarah Cloutier. The Knights lost their first six in a row and have dropped 11-of-14 since Cloutier went down.

Upcoming Avocado West League Schedule (Girls 5:30 p.m. / Boys 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 30

San Marcos @ Carlsbad

La Costa Canyon @ Canyon Crest

Mission Hills @ Torrey Pines

Friday, Feb. 1

Torrey Pines @ San Marcos

Canyon Crest @ Mission Hills

La Costa Canyon @ Carlsbad

Carlsbad sophomore Caleb Nelson.
(Ken grosse)
LCC junior Katie Quain dropped 21 points on Mission Hills in a losing cause.
(Ken Grosse)
Mission Hills senior Susie Reynoso scored 15 against LCC.
(Ken Grosse)