League play has just passed the halfway point for the local boys and girls high school basketball teams and things are getting exciting.
The Murrieta Valley boys squad, for instance, with what seemed like a “lock” on the Southwestern League title, is now in an interesting situation. Fans of the sport should not miss a single remaining game.
When league play began on Jan. 9, the Southwestern League had five out of its six teams with 10 or more wins.
Head coach Steve Tarabilda’s Nighthawks were riding high at the time with a 14-1 record, having won all three tournaments in which they played. They captured the Citrus Hill “Big Daddy” tournament with a win over Rancho Verde in the finals.
They won their own Nighthawk Classic, just getting past highly-regarded Elsinore in the final game, 62-60.
Then, on Dec. 30, Murrieta Valley took home the championship trophy in the 22nd Annual Holiday Classic in San Diego winning the Mayors Division in convincing style, 80-55 over Sierra Canyon.
”We are getting tremendous play from our starting seniors: Jackson Helms, Darius Butler, Reid Shackelford and Scott Tarabilda,” said coach Tarabilda.
Darius Butler and Reid Shackelford came home with all-tournament honors in each of the tournaments. Junior Scott Tarabilda and sophomore guard Mitchell Lenhart were also named to the all-tournament team for the Nighthawk Classic. Butler was the MVP for all three tournaments.
Lenhart, only a sophomore and averaging 5.2 points per game, is a regular starter for the now 17-2 Nighthawks. Butler leads the team with 20.1 points per game followed by Shackelford with 16.9 and Helms with 10.6. Especially noteworthy are Butler’s league-leading points scored with 392 and Shackelford’s league-leading 61 three-point makes.
“We do not have a lot of size and quickness, but our coaches emphasize the importance of fundamentals every day in practice,” said Scott Tarabilda of his team.
Scott is currently second in the league in the “assist” category with 3.9 per game. Lenhart is right behind him at third with 3.7 assists per game.
When the Murrieta Mesa Rams came to visit the Nighthawk gym Jan. 17, the boys in black and red nearly lost to the upstart Rams. At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 56. The Nighthawks prevailed during the overtime period and won a squeaker, 63-62.
Last week, Murrieta Valley paid a visit to the Vista Murrieta Broncos. The first half was close and it was 27-25 Nighthawks after two quarters. The second half would go to the Broncos and they won going away, exciting their home crowd in a convincing 60-47 fashion. That win put the Nighthawks in a three-way tie at the top of the league standings with a 3-1 record, matched by the Rams and the Broncos.
With their win Tuesday night at Chaparral, 69-51, the Nighthawks finish the first half of league with a 4-1 record and 18-2 overall. Shackelford was the scoring ace with 25 points including 5 three-pointers in that game.
Next up, the Nighthawks host Temecula Valley, 7 p.m. tonight.
The Broncos overall record of 12-8 is a bit deceiving. Head coach Andy Rucker’s team was not at full strength early on due to their missing three contributing players who were otherwise busy with their CIF Championship football squad.
In addition, returning all-CIF player senior Davin Guinn injured his ankle during the first game of the season and didn’t return to action until the third tournament. Senior Jordan Perry, who averaged 8 points per game last season, is out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. According to teammate junior Jeremy Zorotovich, “Jordan was a big contributor to our team last year and he will be sorely missed."
Vista Murrieta was 8-7 preceding the start of Southwestern League play, but confident that they had learned a lot during their tournaments.
They participated in the Bronco/Ram Tip-Off Tournament with one win and three losses. Next up was the Palm Springs Tournament where they went 2-2. They finished up 2011 play with a 3-1 record in the Paloma Valley Tournament, losing only to Elsinore in the championship game.
Zorotovich was named to the all-tournament team in both the Palm Springs Tournament and the Paloma Valley tournament. Guinn was named all-tournament in the Paloma Valley Tournament.
Guinn also leads the league in points scored per game with 22.9. He is fifth in the league in rebounds with 7.3 per game. Anthony White is averaging 10.9 points per game including 32 three-pointers on the season.
With their 63-56 win Tuesday night at Murrieta Mesa, the Broncos finish the first half of league play tied with the Nighthawks with a 4-1 record and 12-8 overall. Guinn poured in 19 points in the win including 11 of 12 shooting from the free-throw stripe in that game. Junior Evan Roberts contributed a season-high 15 points including 4 three-pointers.
The Broncos-Nighthawks rematch in the Murrieta Valley Gym Feb. 7 will likely see a packed house as these two teams challenge one another for what could possibly be the league crown.
The Bronco boys next play at Chaparral, 7 p.m. tonight.
Head coach Russell Ham’s Rams might have something to say about who will possess that Southwestern League crown. They will play host to the Nighthawks come Feb. 2 and it will be anything but a “gimme” game.
Currently sporting a 3-2 league record (15-7 overall), Murrieta Mesa is loaded with talent and speed. A special season was obvious from the first game of this season back on
Summit currently leads in the Sunkist League standings and was highly ranked in the CIF section last season, losing 53-50 in the CIF Division 2 State Championship game to Archbishop Mitty on March 25, 2011.
During December, the Rams played in three tournaments, the Bronco/Ram Tip-Off going 2-2, the North County Classic (hosted by Fallbrook High School), going 2-2, and the Ted Smith Classic (hosted by Hemet High School), going 4-0.
The Rams doubled up Hemet 58-29 in the tournament championship game, Dec. 30.
Leading the charge towards a very impressive 2011-2012 season with the school’s first graduating class is senior Nate Wright with 15.3 points per game. In the league, Wright is third in rebounds with 8.2 per game and fifth in blocked shots with 0.5 per game. He was named MVP of the Ted Smith Classic.
Junior guard Shane Staton is averaging 11.4 points per game along with 50 steals on the season. Junior point guard Khalil Sharpe averages 9.9 points per game and leads the Rams with 58 assists this season.
When asked about improvements since last season, Wright said, “[We] all have improved. We all have taken that extra step to getting better and really working hard.”
The Rams are currently poised for a CIF berth as they sit alone in third place ahead of Temecula Valley, Great Oak and Chaparral.
The next game for the Rams is at Great Oak, 7 p.m. tonight.
The Warriors are coached this year by former Murrieta Valley standout Brian Wethers.
The team participated in only one tournament, the Bronco/Ram Tip-Off Tournament in late November/early December. Their record there was 0-4.
Calvary has had some success on the road where they’ve won their only three games. At Woodcrest Christian (Riverside) Jan. 3, they were victorious, 55-50. Two weeks later, they came home from Western Christian (Upland) with a win, 52-49. On Jan. 23, the Warriors excelled with a 62-44 win at Temecula Prep.
Through Jan. 24, the Warriors are 3-13 overall and 2-7 in Ambassador League play.
Wethers was a leading player in the annals of Nighthawk basketball, graduating in 1999. He went on to star in college for the University of California, Berkeley through the 2002-2003 season. Thereafter, he played for professional teams in Germany, China, Australia, Ukraine, Uruguay, Lebanon, New Zealand, France and Finland.
Wethers’ pro career was highlighted by being named MVP of the Australian National Basketball League during the 2004-2005 season when he averaged 24.1 points per game.
The coach spoke highly of his team.
“I have seen improvement in most all the kids,” Wethers said. “Special stand outs from last season have been senior Andrew Bigelow and junior Brody Myers. The addition of Senior Abe Capers has also been key for this team.”
“We have been plagued with injury early and had some key players miss out due to academic ineligibility,” said Wethers. “Our record doesn't indicate the learning process this team has gone through to understand how to play the game of basketball."
Statistics of note include Brody Myers and Andrew Bigelow shooting 111 and 107 points on the season, respectively. Zach Chesser is close behind with 100 points. Abraham Capers is the go-to guy for three-pointers with a 57-percent accuracy. Capers and Chesser have a knack for steals and each lead the team with 14.
The Warriors have five games left in the regular season. They next play host to Woodcrest Christian, 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Murrieta girls teams will be highlighted in the next article.