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Torrey Pines High School players and coaches celebrate after beating Foothills Christian, 51-47, on Feb. 23 at RIMAC Arena. Photo by Aaron Burgin
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Torrey Pines wins first Open Division title

There were no demons to be exorcised, or bridesmaids to become brides, Torrey Pines Head Coach John Olive said about winning the 2019 CIF Open Division Championship.

When the third-seeded Falcons outlasted top-seeded Foothills Christian 51-47, Olive said his mind was focused on the accomplishments of this group of Falcons, none of whom were on the two previous teams that made it to boys basketball’s summit and fell short. 

“I didn’t feel like I exorcised anything,” Olive said. “This program has won three of the highest level championships in San Diego (including two Division 1 championships before the Open Division era),” Olive said. “We’ve won three in 22 years, and played for seven titles, that’s almost one third of the time. I am happy we got to those championship games, it’s quite an accomplishment.

“You know, it’s a different group, a different team, these kids didn’t experience any of those losses in the Open finals,” Olive said. “So it’s tough to compare different eras. These kids have worked so hard their entire lives, some of them start coming to games in sixth, seventh grade and dream to play in games like this.”

Torrey Pines avenged early seasons losses to Mission Bay and the Knights en route to the championship. Both of those losses were by one point during a weeklong stretch in December.

“It was really rewarding to beat Mission Bay in the semis … and come back and beat Foothills, those were two really nice wins we are really proud of,” Olive said. “They are excellent coaches, excellent teams, and it took a lot to beat them.”

As for the Feb. 23 championship game, held at RIMAC Arena, Torrey Pines overcame an uncharacteristically bad shooting and ball control night by hitting timely shots and free throws. 

Neither team had their best games (the teams combined to go 4-30 from three and 36 turnovers), but the Falcons closed out the game with free throws from seniors Ryan Brown and Bryce Pope.

The Falcons got huge fourth-quarter threes from a bloodied Noah Viera, who exited the game after catching an inadvertent elbow from a Foothills player.

The 6-7 senior hit consecutive threes in the fourth quarter to help Torrey Pines build a 48-41 lead in the fourth. He finished with 15 points, one of three Falcons in double figures. 

But Knights star forward Derrick Carter-Hollinger scored six consecutive points to bring the Knights within one point in the game’s final seconds. 

Carter-Hollinger, who scored a game-high 19 points, missed a game-tying free throw, and the Falcons closed the game out hitting 3-4 from the line. 

Torrey Pines senior standouts Michael and Bryce Pope added 16 and 11 points, respectively. Bryce Pope also grabbed 11 rebounds for the double double. 

Foothills Christian’s usually reliable back court of Yassine Gharram and Jaren Nafarette struggled shooting in the finals. They shot a combined 6-24 from the field. Gharram finished with 13 points and a game-high six steals. 

Olive and the team said they were overjoyed to climb to the top of San Diego hoops this season, one that started with an emotional punch to the gut when junior guard Nick Herrmann was diagnosed with bone cancer. 

From a practical standpoint, Herrmann’s absence robbed the Falcons of one of their best guards, Olive said. 

“Losing Nick obviously was a tremendous loss, it left us short on guard play,” Olive said. “We had lots of forwards and centers, but losing one of our guards was an incredible blow, not only for him but for the team. We had lots of flaws, and we addressed those flaws very beginning continued to work on how to improve them as the year went on.”

Herrmann, he said, has proven to be an inspiration to the group.

“Nick has been so involved all year, he’s been at games when he can, and even sometimes he comes just to coach’s session game plan,” Herrmann said. “Like today, since he is in the hospital and can’t make it to our game, he asked to see game notes prep notes, what the game plan was like. He does everything possible to stay involved.”

The Falcons win was one of three by North County teams over the championship weekend. Cathedral Catholic outlasted Francis Parker 47-46 to claim the Division 1 title as 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Obinna Anyanwu scored the game-winning putback with three seconds left. 

Carlsbad soundly defeated fellow North County school Rancho Buena Vista 72-54 to clinch the Division 2 Championship behind 21 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists from junior point guard Jailen Nelson.

San Pasqual defeated Clairemont 49-42 on Feb. 21 to claim the Division 5 title, the school’s first since 1991 when current head coach Erik Meek was a player.