Falcon boys return to CIF Open Championship game with semi-final win at St. Augustine

Torrey Pines' Brandon Angel goes to the rim in the final seconds.
(Ken Grosse)

Star forward Brandon Angel may have only scored nine points Wednesday night, Feb. 26, but he got the game’s two biggest—a pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining—as third-seeded Torrey Pines downed second-seeded host St. Augustine, 56-54, in the CIF Boys’ Basketball Open Division semi-finals.

The victory was Torrey Pines’ 15th in a row and puts them in the CIF championship game Saturday, Feb. 29, with a chance to become the first team to win the Open Division in consecutive seasons. They will be facing top-seeded Cathedral Catholic, an 87-64 winner over Francis Parker in the other semi-final. Tip-off for the title game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at UC San Diego’s RIMAC Arena.

Characteristic of the entire night, the final minute was intense. With Saints up, 52-50, Angel, the recently-named Avocado West League Player of the Year, hit a short jumper to tie it up. Junior Nick Herrmann then made what might have been the critical play of the game, a strip steal of Luke Haupt just across midcourt, before getting fouled going to the hoop. With just 53 ticks to go, he made both free throws to give the Falcons a two-point edge.

Junior Nick Herrmann collected a team high 15 points.
(Ken Grosse)

St. Augustine senior Luke Haupt responded by getting the baseline and throwing down a game-tying dunk. Torrey Pines Head Coach John Olive called time out to plot the strategy for draining the clock and getting the final shot. He knew where he wanted the ball and got the result he anticipated.

“We set up a high ball screen with Chris (Howell) and Brandon with Brandon handling the ball and Chris rolling to the basket,” said Olive. “Brandon was supposed to go to the basket when he turned the corner off the screen if he thought it was open. If they doubled him, he was supposed to hit back to Chris. They didn’t double him, he went to the basket and got fouled.

“Their last play, I didn’t know what they were going to run. I just told everyone to contain your man and don’t let them get a second shot because they’re so good at getting offensive rebounds. It was a great team win.”

Chris Howell scored 13 points for the Falcons, 11 in the first half.
(Ken Grosse)

The contest was a battle of San Diego prep basketball royalty. Besides being two of the top three-ranked teams in this season’s tournament, between them the schools have won three of the six championships since the Open Division was formed, are the only two schools to have earned Open bracket berths every year and are both coached by local icons—Torrey Pines head man John Olive is fourth on the San Diego career wins chart with 528 and Saints’ counterpart Mike Haupt is right behind him at No. 5 with 522. St. Augustine had knocked off the Falcons, 64-56, in the late December Holiday Classic, a night when Howell was out sick.

In front of an energized full house, Wednesday’s skirmish lived up to its potential with up-and-down action and the differential never exceeding five. Howell, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, was central to Torrey taking a 29-25 advantage into the break but Saints poured in the first nine points of the second half and were still up by one after three.

Guard Nate Witte cuts loose after the second of his two second half three-pointers.
(Ken Grosse)

Angel and Howell may be the cornerstones of the Torrey Pines offense but all year Olive has seen his role players deliver in the clutch and the CIF semi-final was no exception. It was a group effort on the boards. The tenacious Herrmann had a team-high 15 points and grabbed six rebounds while 6-foot junior Nate Witte chipped in with eight points and drained back-to-back treys in the fourth quarter, helping set the stage for the late game heroics and

“It’s what we expect to do,” said Witte. “In practice we’re all going as hard as we can, the coaches give us opportunities to play and we just have to capitalize on our opportunities.

“Coach Olive always tells me to shoot it, so when I’m open, I’m going to take it. They have all the belief that we can do it.”

Olive’s postgame comments included that notion. “The difference tonight was the way we controlled the paint and were able to limit the number of points they got from offensive rebounds, particularly in the second half” said Olive. “They’re so good around the basket.

“For us to be successful, everybody’s got to step up. It takes everybody to play well and do their job. We all know what our job is and we all did it.”

The dynamic 6-7 senior duo of Chibuzo Agbo (17) and Nakial Cross (16) combined for 33 of Saints 54 points.

After sitting out last season while recovering from bone cancer, a process that included four surgeries and 70 days in the hospital, perhaps more than anybody, the resolute Herrmann appreciates being part of the Falcons’ championship run.

“I watched it all last year and it’s just really a special feeling right now,” said Herrmann. “For me, personally, it’s just a blessing and I’m really stoked for the opportunity.

“We’ve got a chance to go back-to-back in the Open Division and no team’s ever done that before. I’m really stoked for the opportunity.”