May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

2020: First three months included CIF titles and resignations of long-time coaches

John Halagan (middle) is joined by his players on his final night as Woodbridge head coach in February. Steve Scoggin (far right) was named the head coach. (File photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

In the first two months of 2020, Orange County high school squads brought home CIF and league titles, coaches earned individual accolades and two long-time boys basketball coaches retired.

There were some other accomplishments in March before the coronavirus pandemic haulted sports.

In the second part of our series, OC Sports Zone takes a look at some of the highlights of 2020. A look at some of the highlights from the end of March to December was published last week.


—In March, UCI men’s basketball coach Russell Turner was named Big West Conference coach of the year after leading the Anteaters to the regular season title. The conference tournament was later cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was the fourth Big West coach of the year award for Turner in the last seven years and his third in the past four seasons.

Turner led UCI to its second straight outright Big West regular season title and fifth in the last seven seasons. He has led the Anteaters to at least 20 wins in seven of the last eight seasons and five Big West regular season titles in the last seven years.

—-Woodbridge pitcher Max Montplaisir was on from the start and he just got better and stronger as the game went on in the Pacific Coast League baseball opener on Friday, March 6 at Ryan Lemmon Stadium.

It turned out to be the only league game that both Woodbridge and Irvine would play as the coronavirus pandemic haulted play and eventually cancelled the season.

The senior struck out 14 and threw a two-hit shutout to help Woodbridge defeat Irvine 2-0. Most of the stands were filled for the Woodbridge home game.

“I’m real proud of him, he deserved that one,” said Woodbridge Coach Ryan Brucker. “He’s our leader and he’s put in the work and he had a couple tough ones early. I was glad he stepped up. All his pitches were working.

“When he’s on, that’s what you get from him.”

Third baseman Danny Vasquez led the hitting attack, going 2 for 2 for Woodbridge (6-2, 1-0). He had an RBI double in the second inning, driving in Jack Bunnell who reached on an error and a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning that scored Matt Spear, who led off with a single.

Ryan Barlow also pitched well for Irvine (6-2, 0-1) allowing just one earned run and scattering six hits and striking out five.

Irvine’s best chance to score came in the second inning when Jordan Raymond doubled with two outs and Cameron Hicks walked. But Montplaisir got Chandler Hazlett to ground out to end the threat.

—The La Habra boys soccer team defeated St. John Bosco 4-2 to capture the CIF Division II SoCal Regional Championship title game.

Not even two cold showers could cool Joel Carlisle’s joy over seeing his team’s 4-2 victory over host St. John Bosco in the CIF Division II SoCal Regional Championship title game.

“I could see yesterday that this is something the guys really wanted,” the coach said after being doused with ice water for the second time. “To be able to share this with my wife, and my son, who is on the team, is really wonderful for me.”

-Courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone

—Orange High’s baseball team opened Orange Coast League play with a 9-0 victory over Estancia Friday and pitcher Jonathon Long threw a perfect game.

Long had 12 strikeouts and went 1 for 1 at the plate with a double, three walks and three runs scored to lead the Panthers (6-3, 1-0).

He signed to play for Long Beach State.

Also in March, Trabuco Hills defeated Laguna Hills 1-0 and the Mustangs Mason Molina threw a no-hitter. He had seven strikeouts and two walks.


–Long-time Valencia High boys basketball coach Dean Yoshimura resigned as coach.

“It wasn’t an easy decision but I just felt like this is the right time,” he told OC Sports Zone. “I feel the program is in a good place, the cupboard isn’t bare. There is talent in the program to have immediate success.

“I will continue teaching math at Valencia. My retirement from teaching will probably be after the 2021-22 school year.”

Yoshimura has been the Tigers coach since 1993, spanning 27 years. In January, he earned his 400th career victory.

He led the team to league titles in 1994, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011 and had an overall career record of 403-341.

In all, he won 12 varsity league titles as a coach: five with boys basketball, four with girls volleyball (1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992) and three with boys volleyball (1991, 1993 and 1992).

–Servite’s boys soccer team captured the CIF Division 1 title.

“To win this is brutally hard,” Servite Coach Jon Spencer said after Servite edged Loyola 2-1 at Warren High in Downey to end its title drought.

“Division 1 is as tough as it has ever been and I certainly appreciate it more now,” Spencer said of the second CIF title in his eight-year Servite tenure.

With a senior-laden team acutely aware of the frustrations of recent seasons, Spencer and his team had prepared for the opportunity all season long.

“We played the hardest schedule in all of CIF this year, hands down, and we did it to prepare our team to be able to play in these games,” Spencer said.

“And we pressed our senior leadership, and they responded.”

In a grand way, at the perfect time. Senior goal keeper David Mitzner limited a potent Loyola offense (the Lions were ranked No. 2 in the state) to one goal while recording seven saves, including several of the spectacular value.

Servite scored first in the 24th minute when senior Uriel Sanchez scored on a penalty kick after Jesus Melgoza was fouled in the box.

Loyola counted for a tie on a goal by Liam Hook in the 46th minute before Dean Hirsch benefited from a perfect pass from Ernesto Garcia in the 66th minute to secure the victory.

–Courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone

—In February, Crean Lutheran’s girls basketball team appeared headed toward its first CIF championship in the program’s short history Saturday morning at Azusa Pacific University.

But top-seeded Santa Monica made some big plays in the final minutes to capture a 44-40 victory over the Saints in the CIF 3AA championship game.

Santa Monica (26-7) was led by Chantal Moawad who scored 23 points. Iternite Reed added 10 points. Taylor Feldman scored 14 points, Trinity Cha had eight points and Shannon O’Malley and Emily Reed six points each for the third-seeded Saints (26-5). Hailee Daniel battled all game, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring four points before fouling out late.

“I’m beyond proud of these girls,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Bianca Ziemann. “We knew we were taking on a very good Santa Monica team that has probably the best and tallest post player we’ve played all year. She’s going to Brown, the kid can play.”

–In February, Mater Dei’s girls basketball team finished strong defeating Windward of Los Angeles 77-65 to capture the CIF Open Division title at The Pyramid at Long Beach State.

The Monarchs outscored defending open division champion Windward 25-13 in the fourth quarter to win the title. Soleil Montrose scored 20 points, Alyssa Frescas scored 16 points, Caia Elisaldez scored 14 points and Brooke Demetre scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Mater Dei (30-2).

It’s the first CIF title for Mater Dei since 2012 when 2011 when Coach Kevin Kiernan’s team won the CIF 1AA title defeating Brea Olinda 63-54.

Windward (25-5) was led by Juju Watkins with 28 points.

—Mater Dei’s boys basketball team had quite a run to reach the CIF Open Division championship game against top-seeded Sierra Canyon winnning three games on the road.

But the Monarchs couldn’t pull off another one in the title game at The Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State, losing 59-48.

Ziare Williams scored 23 points to lead Sierra Canyon. Brandon Boston Jr. added 16 points. Wilhelm Briendenback scored 18 points and Devin Askew 15 points for Mater Dei.

Coach Gary McKnight’s Mater Dei team (25-7) opened the tournament defeating No. 2 Centennial Corona 66-58, then defeated No. 3 Rancho Christian 76-71 and No. 7 Harvard Westlake 65-46.

—-Santa Ana High pitcher Vincent Tinajero hurled a no-hitter to lead the Saints to an 11-0 victory over Los Amigos in the Newport Elks Tournament at Santa Ana.

The senior struck out 13 batters in the game to lead the Saints (1-2).

“I’m just tickled to death because I watched this kid at the age of 10 throw a no-hitter at one of the local Little Leagues,” said Santa Ana Coach Dave Silva. “To get it done today, with me being his manager, what a special moment.”

Tinajero also contributed offensively, going 2 for 4 with two walks. Josh Delgado went 2 for 4, Adam Meza was 1 for 3 with two walks and Emilio Castaneda was 1 for 3 with two walks.

—- University High’s highly-successful and popular long-time boys and girls tennis coach John Kessler returned to teaching after being hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage in November.

Kessler was hospitalized while his girls team was playing in the Southern California Regional championships. The team went on to win without its head coach.

“I  had a subarachnoid hemorrhage,” Kessler said.  “They still don’t know exactly what caused it.

“I spent four weeks in the ICU and one week in the general hospital.  I was sent home and was on bed rest for the month of January.”

—Thousands showed up at Angel Stadium to honor the Altobelli family, including former Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli.

Many of them, saddened when Altobelli, his wife Keri and youngest daughter Alyssa were killed in a helicopter crash that also killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his youngest daughter Gianna and four others, showed just how much they meant on Monday evening.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 fans turned out for a celebration of life on a sunny, warm day. Baseball players and coaches showed up in big numbers in honor of Altobelli, who was about to enter his 28th year as OCC coach. He had led OCC to four state titles.

“On this day, in my opinion, we are not at Angel Stadium, we are at Altobelli Stadium,” said family friend Guy Lemmon as he greeted fans at the start of the program.

Angel Stadium’s turf was torn up because of a monster truck show on Sunday, but the location still seemed perfect for the celebration because it was one of Altobelli’s favorite places. He coached his son JJ during an elite baseball tournmament there.

Orange Coast College baseballl players were in attendance, along with all the other teams in the Orange Empire Conference. Coach Kent Madole’s Irvine Valley College baseball team attended.

—Long-time Woodbridge boys basketball coach John Halagan ended his run as head coach.

Woodbridge players tried their hardest to send Halagan, who was wrapping up a 28-year run, out with a win.

But an inspired University team ended that plan, defeating the Warriors 63-53 in a Pacific Coast League game at Woodbridge.

Woodbridge finished up 5-21 overall and 3-7 in the PCL.

Halagan efforts and years of dedication were acknowledged by public address announcer Paul King. Halagan, 61, began his career at Woodbridge in 1982 coaching the frosh-soph team.

Halagan, who led Woodbridge to seven league titles, exchanged hugs with players, supporters and school officials and remained upbeat, despite the loss.

“I’ll always remember them, you always remember your first team and your last team, certainly the CIF title team (1997) but all day my phone was blowing up, I had texts from guys who played on the frosh soph team back in ’82,” Halagan said.

“I’m going to pass the baton to Steve Scoggin and I’m really thrilled. He’s a great coach. He will get things going again and I think he will do a great job. Our guys always played hard, no regrets. I guess the only regret you have as a coach is that you wish you could have won every single game, that’s never going to happen.”

—-Portola’s girls basketball team, in its second year of varsity competition, clinched a CIF playoff berth with a 37-24 Pacific Coast League victory over Woodbridge Tuesday night at Portola.

“We’re in and again, that was something our seniors really wanted to dedicate themselves to,” said Portola Coach Brian Barham. “I’m really excited for them, they really worked in the off-season as well.”

Allyson Tabayoyong scored 18 points and made five 3-pointers, and Moka Saiki scored seven points to lead Portola (16-8, 6-3).

—Northwood High’s girls water polo team made history. The Timberwolves defeated Irvine 7-5 in a Pacific Coast League match at Northwood to win the first league championship in the program’s history. It’s also Coach Kyle Kim-E’s first league championship as a coach.

Kim-E, who also coaches the boys water polo team, was a two-time league champion as a player at Northwood.

Northwood charged out to a 6-1 lead at halftime and held off Irvine to win.

Freshman Valerie Wraith continued her offensive dominance with four goals. Freshman Ella-Blue Wilmot scored two goals and senior co-captain Hannah Miller scored one.

On defense, senior co-captain Sarah Buting led the team with three steals. Sophomore Sanjana Venkatesh had 13 saves.

—Portola’s boys basketball team clinched a share of its first Pacific Coast League title with a 60-39 victory over Woodbridge at Portola.

After the game, Portola players went across the court to thank their student supporters, but there was no big celebration. The fans were pretty subdued for most of the game, too.

“To share it us a huge accomplishment,” said Portola Coach Brian Smith. “Being open for four years, and second year of varsity, credit to our guys and all the work they’ve done and not giving up.

“We had a time this year when we lost six games in a row and we lost six games by a total of 14 points, so the fact that they didn’t give up and they believed in each other and the coaching staff is a testament to what these guys have been doing the last three years. It sets a good mark going forward.”

University’s girls basketball team captured its third consecutive Pacific Coast League title Tuesday night, defeating Beckman 58-48 at University.

“We’re extremely proud of the girls,” said University Coach Fidel Vargas. “They’ve come a long way since preseason, working hard to implement a new system and culture.

“It was a team effort with Claire Kawata and Aryn Press leading the way. We still have some work to do. The girls are not done. Tremendously thankful and blessed to be part of this team.”

Kawata scored 21 points and Press had 15 points to lead the Trojans, who led 32-21 at halftime. Kawata has also broken the career 3-point record, surpassing Malia Goldsmith’s total of 143. She has 160 in her career with one more game remaining Thursday vs. Woodbridge.


—Saddleback High’s girls basketball team captured the Orange Coast League title outright and did it in convincing fashion.

The Roadrunners jumped to a 31-point halftime lead and went on to defeat Costa Mesa 62-33 to take the crown. This one was special for coaches Al Martinez and Dan Lara.

“It means a lot to the program, maybe they won’t embrace it until later on,” Martinez said. “We’re still two games away of going 10-0 and that’s what I really want the girls to achieve. I don’t believe there’s been another girls team at Saddleback that has gone through the whole league season undefeated and I wanted them to graduate with that legacy.”

Saddleback had balanced scoring led by Maria Martinez and Karime Lopez, who each had 12 points. Lopez also had 12 rebounds. Daisy Flores had 10 points and six steals and Desiree Quero had seven assists for the Roadrunners.

“As a coach, it’s kind of like a dream come true you could say,” Coach Lara added. “We’ve been at Saddleback, myself for nine years, six years with the girls (he also coached the boys team for three seasons) and this is my very first league championship, so it’s definitely going to be very special.”

—-Cypress High’s boys basketball team clinched a share of its third consecutive Empire League title in January, defeating Crean Lutheran 63-47 in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Crean Lutheran.

The Centurions (21-5, 8-0) won their 28th league game in a row over three seasons and notched their second victory over Crean Lutheran this year. It’s the fourth title in five years for Cypress.

“This clinches a share of the title, our boys have worked hard,” said Cypress Coach Derek Mitchell. “People have counted this group out because we lost so much last year. I’m just so happy for them. We still have two more and we’re trying to stay undefeated in league so they can get 30 in a row.

Christian Chai scored 23 points, Eddie Spencer had 19 points and Elijah Vaielua scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Cypress.

Josh Shin scored 18 points to lead Crean Lutheran (15-9, 6-2). Michael Birket added 10 points and Yezbak eight points, five in the first half. Crean Lutheran’s 6-11 center James Agany was held scoreless but grabbed 12 rebounds and had three blocked shots.

—-Rick Curtis was named the new head football coach at Crean Lutheran High School.

Curtis will also teach at Crean Lutheran and be the director of athletic leadership.

For the last four years, Curtis has been the head coach at Capo Valley Christian, where he was also athletic director. He replaces Randall Reynoso, who resigned to take the head coaching job at El Toro. Reynoso had a 7-13 overall record in two seasons. Crean Lutheran was 0-10 in league play during that time. The Saints were 3-7 overall and 0-5 in the Empire League last season.

“The Saints’ family is excited to begin the next chapter in football with a sage and faithful coach who has a proven track record,” said Crean Lutheran’s  Executive Director and CEO Jeffrey Beavers in a statement.

“Coach Curtis knows how to build a strong and cohesive football program, and especially understands how faith can impact the lives of young men beyond the gridiron. The Crean Lutheran community is excited and blessed to welcome Coach Curtis and his family.”

—-Long-time Saddleback High School boys soccer coach Mel Silva celebrated his 500th career coaching victory in January when the Roadrunners defeated Orange 3-1.

Silva has been Saddleback’s coach since 1988. The team has consistently been in the CIF playoffs with CIF titles in 2005 and 2013. The 2005 team went 26-0-2.

“It’s been a long journey and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Silva said in a statement to OC Sports Zone provided by Saddleback.

Athletic Director Rob Thompson added:

“He is an icon here and we appreciate everything he has done for our school and for the hundreds of student athletes he has coached throughout the years. His contributions on the sports fields, in the classrooms and around the campus have been immeasurable.

“Every school should have a coach like Mel Silva in their programs.”

—-There was high school football in January and it was the South all-stars turn to shine again in the 61st Annual North-South All-Star Football Classic at Orange Coast College.

The South jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and went on to defeat the North 27-13 in front of an estimated 5,500 fans.

The South has won the last six all-star games and now leads the series 30-26 with three ties.

The South got a strong effort from quarterback Nick Billoups from San Clemente, who was named his team’s player of the game. Billoups scored the first touchdown of the game on a 10-yard TD run midway through the first quarter. He wound up with 133 yards rushing and 39 yards passing.

“You could only run man (defense) so I knew once I broke loose from the pocket, I was going to be in the end zone, it was a great play,” Billoups said. “It means a lot, personally I didn’t get to finish my season off on a good ending so this is a good way to end my senior year with a win. I’m happy for the guys, happy for the South, this was a good game.”

Mission Viejo linebacker David Meyer then put the South ahead 14-0 when he interecepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.

Western’s Dan Davidson coached the North team.

But North Coach Dan Davidson from Western was proud to lead his squad.

“It was an honor to be part of this game,” Davidson said. “There was a big crowd and I had a lot of fun coaching it. They were wonderful kids.”

La Habra wide receiver Kristopher Koontz, who had seven catches for 112 yards, was named the North’s player of the game.

“I’m very happy that Kris Koontz got MVP for the North side,” Davidson said. “I thought (quarterbacks) Cade (McConnell, Los Alamitos) and Luke (Duxbury, Sunny Hills) learning the offense in such a short time (stood out) and we went no huddle and I was really proud of both sides really.”

—Cypress High’s baseball program retired the number 24 of former Centurion David Fletcher of the Angels.

Before the presentation, Cypress Coach John Weber said, “you’re going to hear me talk about, and I hope without crying, David is exactly what … and forget whether he is in the big leagues or not … the kind of man he is, the kind of player he was here and still is now and that is exactly what we aspire for all of our players to be.”

Fletcher recalled his time at Cypress fondly. “It was awesome,” he said. “I played four years here … it was a big part of my development and why I am where I am today.”

-Courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone

—-Legendary Santa Ana High boys soccer Coach Joe Peñaflor got his 300th career victory Wednesday afternoon and his Saints remained atop the Orange Coast League standings with a perfect 5-0 mark.

Santa Ana defeated Costa Mesa 4-1 at Santa Ana Stadium and after the match, Peñaflor was doused with a bucket of water, then posed for pictures with his players.

He thanked all the players who have played for him, his assistants and his family. School officials made a banner for him congratulating him on his 300th career win. He was also presented an autographed soccer ball.

“Just thinking of the years and all the time and effort that has gone into bulding this program,” said Peñaflor said in an interview while trying to fight back tears. “I took over for my dad in 2001 after he ran it for a good 20 years so this program has been in the family for 40 years.

“It’s just been a passion of mine to build a program like this to work with kids in this community and the high school and to give them a place to show off their talents and abilities and to get them to graduate from high schoool and move on. It’s been a lot of years, a lot of hard work.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone;