SURPRISE: Culver Boys Make Playoffs
By Fred Altieri
Defying the odds, the Culver City High boys basketball team has made the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
Despite losing their final six Ocean League contests, most of them in the last agonizing minutes of each game, the playoff committee felt the Centaurs earned an invitation.
And for added respect, the committee rewarded the team a favorable matchup against a 14th seeded team.
Head coach Adam Eskridge gave a rundown on what he learned this past Sunday afternoon. And he informed his team in a very modern and now very expected way: "They announced the at-large teams at 12:30 p.m. At about 1:45 is when they put out our bracket. As soon as I got the word I sent a mass text out to our players.
"I told them when we made it and within the hour I texted them as to who, what and where we would be playing. The seniors were the most excited because they really wanted this opportunity."
He gave the details: "We were accepted as an at-large in Division 2AA Playoffs and we are matched up against Westminster High School in the first round. It was originally scheduled for Friday. I got a call about two minutes after the brackets came out and Westminster had some gym issues for Friday so we are going to play Thursday night at 7 p.m."
Eskridge is familiar with the opponent as he and a few of his players did a quick study on the Lions: "We have played in Westminster's varsity tournament the last three out of four years, including last year. We're familiar with the gym. Our guys are kind of excited that we're going to play there. It's a pretty nice facility.
"Their coach, Jesse Miramontez is very disciplined, old-school guy. Their kids are nice, very respectful and are going to be a disciplined team. They have two players who score a lot, one who averages over 27 points per game."
The Centaurs and Lions have two common opponents this season. Westminster beat Torrance by eight points and lost to West Torrance by eight. Culver beat both teams twice each. They took out Torrance 51-49 and 71-54 and beat West Torrance 52-49 to open the season and completed the sweep 62-52 in early January.
Eskridge understood his team's fortune: "Obviously going there against a well-coached team we shouldn't be favored but I like who we drew in the first round. We could have drawn a number of other teams who we don't match up against as well.
" They're a guard-oriented team, which is good for us. They're not big bruisers, which are the type of teams that give us problems. I like our matchup and we'll see how we prepare for them the rest of this week."
There was justified apprehension by the Centaurs about making the playoffs especially since they failed 63-42 in their final league game against Beverly Hills High. The Normans ended up tied with Santa Monica High at the top of the league with an 8-2 record. Culver finished in fifth place with 2-8 in league and an 11-15 record overall. But the strong league competition ultimately served them well in the playoff selection committee's eyes.
Eskridge explained: "The CIF playoff committee is comprised of different coaches, athletic directors and people that are involved in basketball from the area. They start with the top 16 teams in the Southern Section. Then they move on to the divisions. All six teams in the Ocean League made the playoffs. I think that speaks to how strong our league is. There are not a lot of public school leagues that got all of their teams in the playoffs. That should be a feather in the cap for the Ocean League."
The game at Beverly Hills started off well for Culver as they took an early lead and were tied at the end of the first half, 25-25, despite not having one of their key players in the lineup.
Eskridge liked how his team responded: "Chris Edwards did not play Thursday night against Beverly. In the first half we took advantage of some of things they were doing. I think they were caught up in the moment Senior Night and the league title was on the line with them being tied at the top of the league. We moved the ball beautifully in the first half. It's just a tough place to score."
The second half was a different story. "In the second half when they ratcheted up their defense, that's when we missed Chris because they were really loading up on Armani Nicolis.
"Isaac Girley played a great game. Every one of our guys played hard the entire game and I applaud them for that. The reality is that without Chris we didn't have enough fire-power to win that game."