With the regular season winding down this week and the always compelling playoffs just around the corner, it is a propitious time to take a look at the five Escondido-based high school teams that seem to have the best shot at making a run during the upcoming postseason.
Escondido – No local team will enter the playoffs with more momentum than the Cougars. With an overall record of 19-8, undefeated in Valley (League) play (9-0) and having won ten straight entering their regular-season finale this Friday, the Cougs are on a mighty roll. Currently positioned 2nd in the San Diego Section Division 2 standings, Esco figures to benefit from a lofty seeding. Armed with a clutch go-to guy in Justin Fox, a gifted point guard in Julian Hutchinson and a hustling/productive pair of sophomores in Nick Payne and EJ Pyers, the Cougars possess an enviable mix and chemistry on the court. And should big man Jacob Sauls make his presence felt at the defensive end, the Cougs become a very dangerous opponent. Having played a challenging non-league schedule, coach Paul Baldwin’s club should be battle tested and primed to do some playoff damage.
Classical Academy – The Caimans (16-8) are positioned to win the Ocean (League) title should they take care of business this week. Clearly responding to the hip and relatable coaching style of head coach Chris Williams and assistant Brian McGlory, CA will enter the postseason a confident group. Situated 5th in the Section 5 standings, the Caimans offer a deep rotation and plenty of legitimate talent. In Maximus Brown, they have an athletic orchestrator who can win games in any number of ways while showcasing D1 type potential. Moreover, in sweet shooter Alex Bunting and conspicuous leader Noah Claxton, the Caimans have bona fide performers. Plus sixth man Jordan De luca has the wherewithal to give his team a huge lift off the bench. Williams is a confident believer in his squad and fully expects it to make plenty of noise when the postseason commences.
Orange Glen – Don’t be fooled by the Patriots 14-13 overall record or 3-8 mark in the Coastal (League). They have played an exceedingly rugged schedule, including taking on the likes of league and D1 heavyweights Francis Parker and Foothills Christian. Having gone to battle against such formidable competition should make the Pats all the more capable of holding their own in the D2 playoff ranks. In Mickey Chew, OG has one of the most versatile guards in the North County and someone who has the wherewithal to carry a team. Chew also has a terrific wingman in Adam Nieves, an active forward who puts up numbers and is seemingly always around the ball. Another player to keep an eye on is junior Roell Lamug, a highly reliable scorer. Led by an experienced and accomplished coach in Chris Featherly, don’t be surprised if the Pats do some surviving and advancing.
Calvin Christian – It has definitely been a successful season for the Crusaders of coach Eric Miedema. CC has captured 12 of 19 games and is currently holding onto second place in the Ocean (League) with a 5-1 circuit slate. Currently placed 9th in the D5 standings, the Crusaders demonstrated their upside earlier this season when they won seven of eight games. In addition, CC produced a signature triumph when it got the best of aforementioned Classical. What gives the Crusaders hope that they could possibly go on a playoff run is that they can trot out a notable threesome. The 6-10 Martin Gumwel has without question lived up to his towering stature while averaging 15.7 points, 15.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest. More impressively, he’s doing all this while immersed in just his freshman season. But Gumwel is hardly the whole show as 6-5 Brandon Nelson (12.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and senior Luke Bons (16.2 ppg, 4.2 apg) have been major pieces as well. When you can get that kind of production from multiple sources, you must be considered a legitimate playoff threat.
Escondido Charter – The White Tigers have come on lately and their 13-14 overall record and 4-3 slate in the Ocean (League) indicates that this is a competitive squad. Listed 10th in the Section D4 standings, if the W. Tigers are hitting their shots they can go off as reflected by the fact that seven times this season they have scored 82 or more points. With a burgeoning post player in 6-6 Marley Gonzalez (13.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg) who knows what to do around the basket and an impactful sophomore guard in Tristan Hernandez, EC has the requisite talent to be a factor in the playoffs. And if you listen to their coach David Vidosic, any postseason team that sleeps on or underestimates the White Tigers could very well get burned.