May 22, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

After big run in regionals, Foothill one win away from reaching CIF state finals

Foothill’s boys basketball team, celebrating after a win in December, has reached the So Cal Regional final. (File photo: OC Sports Zone, Fernando M. Donado).

Foothill’s boys basketball team, which has recorded a school record 30 wins, can reach the CIF State Final with one more win on Tuesday in the friendly confines of its home gym, nicknamed “The Dungeon.”

The top-seeded Knights (30-3) will host No. 2-seeded Los Altos (26-6) Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Southern California Regional Division II final. The winner moves on to face the winner of the Northern California regional final between No. 1 Elk Grove and No. 2 Branson in the state championship game on Saturday, March 12 at 4 p.m. at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

Foothill defeated Rancho Cucamonga 69-54 in the semifinals Saturday night at Foothill, where the Knights are 14-1 this season. Los Altos has been an excellent road team with an 8-0 mark.

Jake Horton scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Braedyn Benhard scored 15 points and had five rebounds, Cruz Billings scored 11 points, Mikey Mazurie had 10 points and five rebounds and Carlo Billings had nine points and nine rebounds to lead the Knights Saturday.

“Saturday’s win against Rancho was huge for us, that was a very good basketball team we beat,” Foothill Coach Yousof Etemadi said Monday. “They were big and physical and we were able to match that all game long and I am proud of our team’s effort.

“That was our 30th win and we broke the school record for most wins in a season. To accomplish that with such a great group of kids is very special. We have a well balanced team and try our best to play as many players as we can each night. Jake Horton led us with 17 points, the Billings brothers were big in the second half. Braedyn Benhard also made some key free throws that really helped us late in the game. Our production was very balanced and everyone stepped up when needed.”

Etemadi, now in his third season at Foothill after guiding the Northwood program for former Timberwolves coach Tim O’Brien, credited his players and coaching staff for the team’s success.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment reaching the regional finals this season for our Knights, each game gets a little harder but our coaching staff does a great job to prepare and get us ready to compete every night,” he said.

The three wins in the regional have all come at Foothill. The Knights one loss there came to Long Beach Poly 50-45, in the quarterfinals of the CIF 2AA playoffs. But Foothill has made the most of another opportunity in the So Cal regionals.

“We’ve had great support from our community and have been very fortunate to play some of these games at home in front of our students and fans,” Etemadi said. “Our Crestview League is one of the toughest in the county and combined with a challenging pre-season schedule, it’s helped us prepare us for this run we have made.”

Los Altos advanced with a 57-41 victory over Edison, led by 7-1 center Jazz Gardner, who had 17 points. Foothill defeated Los Altos 67-57 on Jan. 17.

“Los Altos is tough, they have been playing really well in the post season and we have to be on top of our defensive assignments and slow down their 7-footer,” Etemadi said. “We were able to beat them earlier in the year but they are a much better team now so we have to come ready to compete on Tuesday.”

Foothill’s run to the regional final included a memorable three-overtime victory over Carlsbad in the second round.

“That was one of the craziest basketball games I have ever been a part of, it was extremely stressful but fun,” Etemadi said. “Going down 21 at half was something we had not experienced all season but we knew that if we could just slow them down a bit and cut it to 10 by the fourth, we would give ourselves a chance.

“Our boys fought hard that night, they were relentless and I was really proud of them. Both teams made huge plays and both teams had opportunities to win the game in the first couple of overtimes, but the game just kept going and going.  That’s what high school basketball playoffs is all about, the environment was electric and we had a blast coaching that game. I am glad we came out on top.”

Etemadi has definitely found a home at Foothill.

“I took this opportunity because the community shows up and supports the basketball program, the games are fun and the league is extremely competitive,” he said. ” We have great families in the program and a dedicated booster club that has helped us build this program to where it is today. They put a lot of their time into this program and it has helped us grow in many ways.

“This has been an exciting season, we have been fortunate to come this far this season with a great group of kids. I am happy for them and our staff.”

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com