Pali High Girls Basketball Captures Second Straight City Title; Boys Claim First Since 1969
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When he released the ball with a prolonged flick of the wrist, Sheldon Zanders knew it was going in and as it swished through the hoop he turned to his bench, raised his hands skyward, then pointed to the word emblazoned across his chest: PALISADES.
Zanders’ three-pointer—his fourth of the game— pushed the lead to six points with 4:35 remaining and he followed with a twisting layup on the Dolphins’ next possession for the last two of his game-high 18 points that finished off feisty Harbor City Narbonne and propelled Palisades High to a 50-38 triumph, its first City Section boys basketball championship in 51 years Saturday afternoon at Southwest College.
“We just didn’t want to lose today—we had to go out with a win,” said Zanders, a senior guard who was driven by the memory of Palisades’ quarterfinal defeat to View Park last season. “When that buzzer went off I looked at the scoreboard and it hit me that we really won City!”
It wasn’t the Open Division title—that went to Western League rival Westchester later that night—but winning Division I was no less sweet for a team that ended the regular season with a .500 record and caught fire when it mattered most—in the playoffs.
“This is a brotherhood,” Zanders added. “I knew we had a high chance to pull this off and even if we went to the Open we were going to try our hardest to win that. We know we can compete with any team.”
Zanders’ three-pointer with two seconds left in the first half pulled Palisades even at intermission, 21-21, and he drained another from beyond the arc to open the third quarter that gave the Dolphins a lead they never relinquished.
“Enjoy the hell out of this!” head coach Donzell Hayes said in the locker room, holding up the trophy upon being doused with water by his jubilant players. “No matter what happens, we have this forever.”
Hayes played for Palisades in the mid-1990s and wasn’t even born when the Dolphins won the City crown in 1969 under their first coach Jerry Marvin.
Graham Alphson, who has played half the season with a sprained shoulder, showed grit and determination to the tune of 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. He scored the game’s first basket on a bank shot in the lane and his layup off a pass from Zanders clinched the win with under two minutes left.
Point guard Anthony Spencer, who sat out all of last season with an injury, contributed eight points along with fellow senior Caden Arnold, whose free throws with 12 ticks left ended the scoring.
Upon receiving his medal, Arnold joined his parents Michael and Stacey in the stands to watch his sisters—Sammie, Taylor and Elise—help Palisades’ girls team beat Hamilton 60-44 to win the Open Division championship.
“It’s so cool… I’m so excited,” Caden said. “When we knew we were all going to the same high school this was the goal we set. It didn’t come true until this year.”
Demonnie Lagway paced the girls with 19 points, Ivy Scott had 12 and Alexis Pettis added 11.
“In the first half shots weren’t falling, but I knew if I kept shooting they’d start to go in,” Lagway said. “Jane [Nwaba] told me not to worry. She’s a great leader.”
Nwaba scored seven points and the Pepperdine signee, the team’s only senior, leads by example.
“My brothers Victor and David came and were criticizing me, so I had to play better.”
Sammie Arnold, a junior, hit clutch shots to help Palisades win the Division I title last winter and was elated to share this championship with her freshmen sisters and to watch her brother’s triumph.
“As soon as we walked onto the court the boys were like ‘Go get yours,’ Sammie said. “It was fun.”
Hamilton played the Dolphins tough despite losing both Western League meetings and trailed by only four at halftime, 27-23.
“We guarded them really well in the third quarter,” Pettis said. “We didn’t want to play them but were fine once we got over the jitters.”
Coach Adam Levine, who took over the program last year, cited depth as the difference: “We were able to rest Jane and were fresher in the fourth quarter.”
Both teams opened the regional playoffs at home Tuesday.