Savoring His Riviera Moment
James Hahn Sinks 25-Foot Birdie Putt on Third Playoff Hole to Win in Rain at Northern Trust Open
When he was signing autographs after his final round Sunday at the Northern Trust Open, James Hahn asked a spectator if there was going to be a playoff.
The man answered “Yeah, yeah, it’s Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and some other guy.”
That “other guy” was Hahn and although he was a virtual unknown at the start of the week, he escaped from anonymity after rolling in a 25-foot birdie putt for his first PGA Tour victory on the 14th green at Riviera Country Club.
Eight years ago Hahn, now 33, was selling shoes at Nordstrom’s in Walnut Creek. Now he’s a champion at the highest level of professional golf.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said.” The biggest thing in my life right now is the birth of my daughter in three weeks. That brings me down to reality and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Hahn was more than excited after his second shot on the third extra hole fell into the cup and Johnson missed his ensuing putt that would’ve extended the playoff.
“I was just excited that I made it, whether or not Dustin made his,” said Hahn, who finished the tournament at 6-under par. “I couldn’t look. I was nervous. My heart was going 120 beats per second. I put a good putt on it and it was good speed, just enough to catch the left corner.”
Hahn almost had to pinch himself to believe he was in the interview tent answering questions about his improbable win.
“I look at myself in the mirror some days and tell myself I’m not even supposed to be here. I come from a small town, I didn’t do well in college, was never an All-American. I sold shoes for a living and then one day the putts started going in and I started playing a little better. I can still remember grinding in the mini-tours and I didn’t have any money. I played a year in Korea, two years in Canada, three on the Web.com Tour and this is my third season on the PGA Tour. So I think I’m trending in the right direction.”
Hahn, Johnson and Casey all parred the first sudden-death playoff hole, Riviera’s famed No. 18, but Casey missed his birdie putt at the 10th, leaving Johnson and Han left to battle it out for the first-place prize.
Both players landed their approach shots on the green but Johnson’s ball stopped about six feet from the cup. Fate, however, was on Hahn’s side.
“At one point I had $200 in my pocket and was going to borrow money from my parents to pay my caddie and book a flight home,” Hahn recalled. “I’m sitting there on the computer going on Craigslist and I start looking for jobs. It just kind of hit me, like, hey, you have an opportunity to do something with your life. And I was wasting it just hanging out with friends, partying on the weekends. I wasn’t putting the time in.”
Hahn finished eighth that week in Edmonton, winning about $3,000 that in retrospect, he said, felt like “at least $1 million.” He kept his card that year, his career continued and Sunday, in his 65th career start on the world’s premiere circuit, he earned a nice check he said “will buy a lot of diapers.” The victory also vaulted him to eighth in the FedExCup standings and earned him a spot in this year’s Masters Tournament in Augusta, GA.
The Korean-American is also the first Cal alumnus to win a PGA Tour event.
“Back when I was grinding on the mini-tours I’d write down on a sticky note, ‘I will putt great today,’” Hahn said. “I put that everywhere I would possibly go for the entire day. I’d put it next to my toothbrush, on the mirror in the bathroom, on the toilet seat, even on the door before I left. I kind of did a little bit of that yesterday. I just told myself, ‘I will putt great tomorrow. I will putt great tomorrow.’’
Johnson, whose fiance is Paulina Gretzky (daughter of hockey Hall-of-Famer Wayne Gretzky), narrowly missed getting his ninth PGA Tour victory. He nearly won in regulation, missing a birdie try from just inside 10 feet at No. 18. Casey, meanwhile, closed with a 68 to earn a place in the playoff.
As usual, Riviera’s narrow fairways got the better of the field. Blayne Barber posted the lowest round of the week – a bogey-free, 6-under 65 Sunday that left him tied for 12th.
“It was the toughest test since probably the U.S. Open last year that I can remember,” said Canadian Graham DeLaet, who shot 73 and tied for eighth.
Johnson had to settle for second place for the second straight year. He finished two strokes behind Bubba Watson last February.
“I feel like I played solid all week,” he said after the final round. “Even today I played well. Obviously 17 cost me, making bogey out of the middle of the fairway with a lob-wedge. You just can’t do things like that if you want to win. Then I hit two great shots into 18 and thought I’d made the putt but two feet from the hole it just snapped hard and hit the left edge. Hats off to James for making a long putt like that in the playoff. I played with him all day, so I knew he was rolling the putter really well. I hit a good putt too, I just misread it. I had it breaking right and it broke left. That’s how it goes.”
Johnson and Casey are new fathers themselves and Hahn admitted talking to Johnson about it during the final round.
“On the first tee I asked him how his son was doing and he said ‘Get as much sleep as you can.’ He also said to hire help because it’s a lot of work. To me it was very calming, if anything, to talk about being a dad. I’m lucky to play golf for a living but to have the opportunity to be a father is absolutely crazy.”
Once the playoff started, however, conversation ceased.
“There wasn’t a whole bunch of talking in the playoff – there never is,” Casey said. “I love this golf course. I’ve always played well here. The crowds are great and it’s just nice to get an opportunity to win this. Maybe one day I can get my name in the clubhouse. This place, I love it to death.”
The tournament was seemingly Sergio Garcia’s to win on the back nine Sunday and he held a one-shot lead walking to the 17th tee, but the Spaniard bogeyed the last two holes and wound up in a four-way tie for fourth at -5. Afterwards, he wasn’t too upset because he didn’t think he deserved to win.
“I didn’t play well at all this week,” Garcia said. “It was already a good effort for me to have a chance, but I’m not going to lie to myself. I’ve always been truthful to myself and I didn’t play well enough.”
Thursday’s first round ended with Hahn, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Nick Watney, Daniel Summerhays and Derek Fathauer all tied atop the leaderboard at 5-under. Goosen rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole to finish 1-under Friday good enough for a one-stroke lead at the halfway mark. The South African shot 2-under Saturday to reach -8 and carried a two-shot lead into the final round. DeLaet was alone in second and 12 others were within four shots.
“I was 9-under through six but I used the wrong clubs into the greens at 7 and 8 and that cost me three shots,” said Goosen, who closed with a +4 and finished tied for eighth. “I thought 8-under was going to be the winning score, but it shows you those holes on the back nine into that rain play tough.”
The playoff was the 19th in the 89-year history of the tournament and the eighth since 1998, when the event was moved to Valencia Country Club in Santa Clarita because Riviera was being groomed for the U.S. Senior Open. Los Angeles native John Merrick beat Charlie Beljan on the second playoff hole in 2013 and the year before Bill Haas sank a 43-footer to birdie the second playoff hole and defeat Bradley and Phil Mickelson.
This year’s playoff was Hahn’s moment and he made the most of it.
“Growing up in Northern California this is one of the tournaments I watched on TV as a kid,” he said. “There are a lot of legends that came through here and seeing all the murals and pictures of past winners, I never thought I’d be up on the same wall. I’m speechless.”
The win not only made Hahn $1.2-million dollars richer, it also gave him an idea what to name his daughter.
“I’m going to have to talk to my wife about Riviera,” he said, laughing. I think that’s a good name, but we’ll see what she says when I get home.”
Wrestlers Take Second at City Finals
Three Dolphins Win Their Weight Divisions and Qualify for CIF State Meet
It didn’t finish in first place Saturday at the City Section Championships, but the Palisades High wrestling team left Roybal Learning Center with a sense of pride knowing it had done its best for a coach that meant so much.
The Dolphins took second – their highest finish in the program’s four-year history – and three of them qualified for the state tournament – a testament to the dedication and teaching of Coach Randy Aguirre, who died of brain cancer in January. Prior to the finals, Aguirre’s parents were presented a commemorative plaque in their son’s honor and they awarded medals to the four placers in each division.
“He meant so much and paved the way for these young men to be successful,” said James Aguirre, Randy’s father. “It’s an honor to represent Randy. He would be so proud of what this team has accomplished.”
El Camino Real racked up 238 points for its 12th City crown, Palisades had 173.5 and Birmingham was third with 172. Assisting coach Aldo Juliano on the mat Saturday was Jonathan Aguirre, Randy’s younger brother.
In the 170-pound final, senior Brad Boorstin got a reversal against El Camino Real sophomore Luis Castilllo, then rode out his opponent for the final two minutes to pull out a 2-1 win, becoming Palisades’ first City individual champion.
“If there were five more seconds I was in a bad position so I’m just lucky time ran out,” said Boorstin, who earned a trip to the state championships March 6-7 in Bakersfield. “This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I wish Coach Aguirre was here to share it with me.”
Aria Mahinfar pinned William Davis of Narbonne in 2:34 to take fifth at 220, Carlos Velado took fifth at 195 and Lofton Mason was fourth at 182 pounds. Marcelo Maya was fourth at 160 pounds, Sam Reedy got third at 152 and Anthony Teitelbaum pinned Bell’s Jorge Cortez in the second period to finish fifth at 145 pounds. Kevin Rosen took fourth at 138 and Samson Dorff was third at 120 for the Dolphins, who defended their regional title and were second at this year’s City Dual Championships.
Shortly after Boorstin’s triumph teammate David Rheingold went against Birmingham’s Miguel Ulloa in the 113-pound final. The match was tied when Rheingold escaped for one point. He was awarded another point on a stall and fought off Ulloa’s shots to win 4-2.
“It feels great because I lost in the finals last year and I’m a senior so this was my last chance,” Rheingold said. “It was Randy’s dream to have one of his wrestlers qualify for state so I feel good knowing I did it and I know he’s watching.”
In the heavyweight final, Palisades’ Kenny Jones was seeking to avenge last year’s loss to Birmingham’s David Hernandez. Jones scored on a reversal, an escape and a takedown to build a 5-0 lead. With 10 seconds left, Jones rolled Hernandez onto his back for a pin won him match and vaulted the Dolphins into second place in the final team standings.
“It was really intense but I owed him one from last year,” Jones said. “The work we did on the mats paid off. When we go to state, we’re going to show them who we are.”
It was a bittersweet ending for senior Erik Miranda, who placed third at 106 pounds. After winning his first match by fall in 58 seconds, he lost a 2-1 decision to Birmingham’s Sam Camacho in the semifinals.
Miranda rebounded to pin El Camino Real’s Sako Avetisyan in the first period, setting up a rematch with Carson’s Gen Barcenas, who pushed Miranda to overtime at the City regionals the week before. This time, Miranda never gave his opponent a moment’s rest and won by major decision.
“I didn’t think about the true second possibility at all – it was potentially the last match for both of us so I wanted to go out strong,” Miranda said. “He was tough on top and rode me out, but the difference was that he couldn’t turn me and I could turn him. This is the best we’ve ever done as a team and we owe all of our success to Randy.”
In the girls’ tournament, Pali High’s Kaila Osorio went 2-2 at 189 pounds, pinning Narbonne’s Toni Gomez to win the fifth-place match.
Pali High Baseball Loses Opener in Extra Innings
There was plenty to be pleased about for Palisades High baseball coach Mike Voelkel after last Tuesday’s season opener against San Pedro. In fact, the only thing he’d change is the final score.
The Dolphins lost 2-1 in nine innings but there were a lot of positives, not the least of which was a stellar outing on the mound by Jed Moscot, who pitched a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and one walk in seven innings.
“We pitched well and fielded well – it was a well-played game by both teams,” Voelkel said. “Jed probably could’ve gone another inning. He was right at 90 pitches, but I didn’t want to chance it.”
The host Pirates scored in the first inning but Palisades tied it in the third when Tyler Yeh and Moscot singled and Lance Pugh lined a single up the middle to score Yeh.
“We had a runner in scoring position with one out in the sixth and with two outs in the ninth so we had some opportunities.”
Before their opener the Dolphins scrimmaged Narbonne and won 5-2. They travel to San Fernando to open the Southern California Invitational at 11 a.m. Saturday and play at Buena on March 3. Their home opener is March 5 against Oxnard Pacifica.
Pali High Water Polo Seeks Revenge Versus Eagle Rock
After seeing the boys squad win its third straight City title in the fall the Palisades High girls water polo team began the season determined to win its first.
The Dolphins will try to start their own dynasty by ending another when they meet defending champion Eagle Rock tonight at 6 at Los Angeles Valley College in Valley Glen.
Palisades has lost to the Eagles in the finals two of the last three years, including a 14-7 defeat last season, but the second-seeded Dolphins are confident after last Friday’s 12-5 victory over third-seeded Birmingham at Maggie Gilbert Aquatic Center.
“It was nice playing a really good team because we’re at a different level than the rest of our league,”said goalie Nicole Poursalimi, who made six saves against the Patriots. “At halftime they got tired and we got stronger. We have a lot of stamina and that should help us in the finals too.”
Goals by Mardell Ramirez, Jackie Au and Yasmin Ansari gave Palisades (18-5) a quick 3-0 lead and Roya Visconti scored on a rebound to make it 4-2 at intermission.
Twenty seconds into the second half, Ramirez scored off a pass from Genesis Carballo and she scored again on a breakaway one minute later. Visconti buried a shot from in close and Carballo scored off a feed from Ramirez to make it 8-2 with 3:25 left in the third quarter. Ramirez scored her fifth goal on a skip shot from 12 meters out and finished with five goals, three assists and five steals.
“Pali matches up well with Eagle Rock,” said Birmingham Coach Vincent Kezman. “Pali has more depth and I think is stronger on defense.”
Two days earlier, Palisades eliminated Marquez 20-5 in the quarterfinals. Ramirez scored seven goals, Au had five, Visconti had three, Carballo had two and Clara Saab, Erika Siao and Sarah Martinez all added one goal.
“[The final] should be a good game,” predicted Marquez Coach David Lopez, whose team lost twice to Eagle Rock in league play. “Pali has good arms and three fast sprinters.”
Top-seeded Eagle Rock (25-4) is chasing a fourth straight section title and has won 67 consecutive games versus City opponents.
“I didn’t get to play at all in the final last year so I;m looking forward to it,” Poursalimi said.
Tennis Tops Crossroads
As he walked off the court after winning his first match of the season, Ben Goldberg showed almost no emotion. He knows it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the race has just begun for the Palisades High boys tennis team.
“Winning City is always the goal, but I’d like to go for the Individual title again,” said Goldberg, who won 6-0, 6-0 at No. 1 singles to lead the Dolphins’ 7-0 shutout of Crossroads on Monday at the Palisades Tennis Center. “Our singles lineup is one of the strongest around and once our doubles guys get used to playing with each other we’ll be even better.”
The Dolphins dropped four games in 14 sets against Crossroads in the debut of freshman Jake Sands, who won 6-0, 6-1 at No. 3 singles. Lucas Bellamy won 6-1, 6-0 at No. 2 singles and Jake’s older brother RJ Sands won 6-0, 6-0 at the No. 4 spot.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect [in high school], but it’s fun because I get to practice with a good group of guys,” said Jake Sands, one of the top players in the nation in the Boys 14s. “We want to get as far as we can in state and do well a the Fresno Tournament.”
Palisades is seeking its seventh consecutive City Section title and in preparation head coach Bud Kling has scheduled several strong Southern Section schools.
“We’re playing Division I this year in Fresno [at the California Tennis Classic] and that’ll test us,’ said Goldberg, who is ranked in the top 20 in Southern California in the Boys 16s. “We’ll have a better idea where we are after that.”
Bailey Joseph, one of the Dolphins’ co-captains along with Goldberg, partnered with Diego Huttepain to win 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 doubles against the Roadrunners.
Jack Harrington and Arvin Hedayaty won 6-0, 6-0 at the No. 2 spot and Jordan Siebel paired with Joseph Nahm to win 6-0, 6-1 at No. 3 doubles.
Senior Barron Chavez, who just joined the team after playing on the Dolphins’ soccer squad, is looking forward to getting back on the court.
“It’s hard to jump right into it, but the footwork in soccer transfers over,” Chavez said.
Palisades travels to Beverly Hills today at 2:30 p.m. and opens league March 2 against LACES.
Birmingham Strikes Early in Playoff Win
To be the best you have to beat the best, so Palisades High boys soccer coach Dave Suarez challenged his team to rise to the level of the competition last Thursday in its City Section Division I playoff opener against defending champion Birmingham.
The ninth-seeded Dolphins did just that but ultimately fell short in a 2-0 loss at Sepulveda Basin Sports Complex in Lake Balboa. It was Palisades’ first opening-round exit since a 6-0 loss to Bell in 2009 in Suarez’s first season at the helm and afterwards he shouldered the blame.
“They countered quickly, they had speed and they were first to the ball a lot,” Suarez said. “They do have weaknesses that can be exposed but I didn’t prepare the guys well enough.”
The Patriots’ speed showed in the third minute when reigning City Player of the Year Eric Villatoro sprinted down the left side and was fouled just inside the penalty area. Villatoro converted the ensuing penalty kick for his 17th goal of the season, giving the home side a lead it would never relinquish.
“I could tell we were really nervous the first minute but that goal settled us down,” Birmingham Coach E.B. Madha said. “We’re starting to find ourselves. We expected Palisades to play the same style as El Camino Real. I don’t sub a lot but I had to today because some guys were tired at the end.”
The Patriots (14-7-3) doubled the margin midway through the second half when Villatoro sent a cross into the box and freshman Aldo Perez scored on a bicycle kick. Palisades almost got one back a minute later when David Grinsfelder banged a shot off the crossbar and fellow senior captain Kavi Kashani sailed a 30-yard free kick over the cage with under two minutes left.
“They were very fast and put pressure on our defense but the difference is that they capitalized on their chances and we didn’t,” Kashani said. “We had a couple good chances on corner kicks in the first half and if we’d scored on one of those it would’ve been a different game, but I love these guys to death. This is the closest team I’ve been on.”
Suarez thought Palisades (10-2-2) deserved a higher seeding in the 16-team bracket after finishing undefeated in the Western League.
“These were two quality teams,” he said. “They should’ve been seeded five and we should’ve been six or seven. We’ve got pieces coming back. As a coach, you don’t want to rebuild, you want to re-tool.”
Girls Soccer Gets by Gauchos
Sometimes it’s better to give than receive.
That is the approach Palisades High girls soccer player Kaitlyn Parcell took in the early stages of last Friday’s City Section Division I playoff opener at Stadium by the Sea.
Parcell sent a well-placed pass to the front of the net and teammate Elizabeth Goodman scored in the fourth minute, setting the tone for the Dolphins’ 4-0 victory over Narbonne.
“KP is so good getting down the line, I was in the right place at the right time and we got one early, which is what we wanted to do,” Goodman said. “We’ve been working on our finishing and it was really important to score in the first 15 minutes because they’re a good team.”
Lulu Adams scored several minutes later, then Parcell switched to attack mode and scored twice in the span of a minute – the first from 20 yards out – to double the lead late in the first half.
“I was so happy for Elizabeth because it was her first [goal] of the season and she deserves it,” Parcell said. “We were a little bummed that we didn’t get the No. 2 seed but it was good to play a quality opponent to prepare us for the next round.”
The third-seeded Dolphins (14-1) host sixth-seeded Bell (15-3-1) in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Friday.
“They were a good team – they’re ball movement was good, they had good control and they had some skilled players,” Palisades Coach Christian Chambers said of the 14th-seeded Gauchos. “We were trying to score in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the second half and after that I wanted to get everyone into the game. We have five goalies all pushing each other and we can play any of them.”
If victorious tomorrow the Dolphins will either travel to second-seeded Granada Hills or host No. 7 Van Nuys in the semifinals next Tuesday. The championship game is Saturday, March 7 at Valley College in Valley Glen.
Palisades went undefeated in the Western League and was seeded behind West Valley League co-champions El Camino Real and Granada Hills. The Dolphins lost to Granada Hills in a shootout in last year’s City final.
“The goal all along is to get back there, but we’re not lloking that far ahead,” Chambers said.
Dolphins Make Opening Statement
Pali High Girls Basketball Cruises Past El Camino Real in First Round of Playoffs
Asked what he liked most about last Friday night’s playoff opener, Palisades High girls basketball head coach Torino Johnson answered: “Everything.”
Sure, he was thrilled with the final score – a 64-40 blowout of El Camino Real that extended the Dolphins’ winning streak to 18 games – but what impressed him even more was his team’s intensity for the full 32 minutes.
“I couldn’t sing their praises any louder,” Johnson said of his players. “They had good preparation, attention to detail and their execution was great. I enjoyed every moment.”
The Western League champion Dolphins (21-10) are seeded No. 2 out of eight teams in the City Section’s inaugural Open Division tournament and jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter against seventh-seeded El Camino Real (18-9), the West Valley League runner-up.
Palisades opened the second quarter on a 13-0 run and took a 48-20 lead into halftime thanks to Kayla Merill-Gillett’s three-pointer at the buzzer.
“That’s the most we’ve been down at the half all season,” Conquistadores junior Sasha Samuels said. “Our coach told us we had to start rebounding and getting back on defense.”
It only got worse from there for the visitors, who were held to 14 points in the second and third quarters combined. The Dolphins entered the fourth quarter up 62-28 and Johnson gave everyone playing time.
Merrill-Gillett finished with 26 points, five steals and three assists and backcourt mate Chelsey Gipson added 16 points, five rebounds and five steals.
Bianca King continued her stellar play in the post, scoring 13 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out five assists. Also contributing to the winning effort with four points, four rebounds and two assists was freshman Sammy Spanier, who was mourning her grandmother’s death.
“Seeing Sammy out there giving it her all inspired everyone else,” Johnson said. “It shows the type of character and commitment our players have to this program. We’re proud of Sammy and we’re all here for her.”
Rita Herbstman and Chaniya Pickett rounded out the scoring for the Dolphins, who will try to defeat Fairfax for the fourth time this season when the teams meet in the semifinals Saturday at 2 p.m. at Roybal Learning Center.
“We’re just doing our thing,” Johnson said. “No matter who the next opponent is I’m only focused on my team.”
The Dolphins beat Fairfax in the finals of its tournament and twice in Western League play, but needed Merrill-Gillett’s three-pointer with three seconds left to escape with a 70-69 victory in their last encounter.
Palisades hasn’t tasted defeat since a 62-46 intersectional loss to La Jolla Bishop’s on Jan. 3. The Open Division final is March 7 at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
PPBA Pancake Breakfast March 14
The Pacific Palisades Baseball Association’s 63rd annual Pancake Breakfast will be held Saturday, March 14, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Palisades Recreation Center’s Field of Dream’s complex.
Tickets are $5. This year’s Pancake Breakfast co-chairs are Liz Denham and Rene Rodman.
Prizes for the most tickets sold include being a bat boy at a UCLA game and a Pepperdine game, week-long sessions at the UCLA and Pepperdine baseball camps, a three-day session at Westside Baseball School Camp and two private coaching sessions with SoCal Rays Coach Steve Gambale.
Season Ends for Pali High Hoops
Sylmar Rallies to Upset Dolphins 90-87 in Overtime in City Division I Quarterfinals
A postseason that began with high expectations ended in disappointment for the Palisades High boys basketball team.
Seeded first in the Division I playoffs, the Dolphins were confident they could capture the program’s first City title since 1969.
Sylmar, however, had other ideas Friday night and showed you can never underestimate the heart of a champion. The Spartans, who won the Division II title last season, felt disrespected after being seeded ninth out of 12 teams after winning the Valley Mission League and arrived at the Pali High gym with chips on their shoulders. Three hours later, they left with a 90-87 overtime victory and a berth in the semifinals.
“We didn’t know anything about Pali except they were seeded No. 1,” said Dayquann Williams, who led Sylmar with 27 points. “We got motivated by our low seeding. We want to prove we’re better than No. 9.”
Palisades had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds left in overtime but Ron Artest III and George Brown missed shots underneath the basket and Tyler Hooks was fouled with 9.2 seconds left. He made one of two free throws to give the Spartans a three-point lead. The Dolphins inbounded the ball and advanced it to half court, calling their final timeout with 5.5 ticks remaining.
On the final play, the Dolphins successfully got the ball to Chris Kurihara, one of their best three-point shooters, at the top of the key, but he was double-teamed and couldn’t get a shot off. Instead, he passed to Ishmael Harris in the right corner and his three-pointer bounced off the rim as time expired.
“The strategy at the end was to guard the three-point line and give them the two,” Sylmar Coach Bort Escoto said. “I think it confused them for a second and I was hoping it would. I’ve got five kids back from last year so we’re used to fighting through games like this. I told my guys we’ve been here before and we’re gonna win.”
Senior guard Joseph Robinson scored 30 points for the Dolphins (15-13) but missed an off-balance jumper at the buzzer at the end of regulation after Hooks tied it 79-79 on a free throw with 12 seconds remaining.
“They just wanted it more than us,” Robinson said. “I definitely think we had the mentality that it would be easy, which no team should have going into the playoffs.”
Brown added 12 points for Palisades, which appeared to headed for a lopsided victory after outscoring the visitors 31-16 in the first quarter.
“It’s hard to lose at home in the last game of the season to a team we should’ve beaten,” Pali High senior captain Monroe Gorden said. “Playing zone [defense] killed us because they were making shots. At first we were mad we didn’t make the Open Division, but we were excited about being the No. 1 seed in Division I because we thought we had a great chance to win it.”
The Spartans (19-13) chipped away at Palisades’ lead and narrowed their deficit to six points by halftime. A three-point play by Williams gave Sylmar a 49-47 lead midway through the third quarter and the Spartans held a 10-point advantage with six minutes left.
The Dolphins responded with a run of their own, pulling to within a point on Michael Fry’s slam dunk with under three minutes left and taking a 76-75 lead on a pair of free throws by Robinson with 1:02 remaining.
With Sylmar in the double bonus it became a free throw shooting contest for the last 60 seconds of regulation as several Dolphins fouled out.
Palisades Coach Vejas Anaya attributed his team’s loss to several factors.
“One problem is that with the exceptiion of the first few minutes we were sleepwalking through the first three quarters,” he said. “We were in foul trouble early, so every touch foul meant free points for them and we had 14 turnovers from our starting guards, which you can’t afford to have.”
As frustrating as Friday’s defeat was, Anaya remains optimistic about the future.
“This is a year-round program so we’ll be back to work Monday,” he said.