Highlanders’ Playoff Run Comes to a Halt

The 2018-19 season at Granada Hills Charter High didn’t start out as a magical one, with four losses in the first five games. But it ended up that way by winning a Los Angeles City Section championship in Division I, and continuing to play well in the state CIF Boys’ Basketball Championships Division III playoffs.

That’s why it was hard for the Highlanders to see the season end on Saturday, March 2, in the semifinals of the Southern California Regional. Despite being the No. 2 seed and hosting the game, Granada Hills was nudged out of the tournament by a 58-57 loss to Crescenta Valley High of La Crescenta, in a game that literally went down to the final second.

The Falcons (29-5) were clinging to a 58-55 lead when Highlanders senior guard Jesse Bannout was fouled from beyond the three-point line with 2.8 seconds left in regulation. Bannout had three free throws, and a chance to tie the score.

He missed the first, but made the second. Bannout then purposely missed the third attempt. The Highlanders got the rebound and Joel Carrillo, another senior guard, was fouled with six-tenths of a second remaining.

Carrillo was in a one-and-one free throw situation, meaning he had to make the first attempt to get the second try. He made the first. He missed the second. And time finally ran out on Granada Hills (19-13) and its season. A tough ending for the last City Section boys’ team of note from the Valley in the state tournament.

The Highlanders — should they choose — could look at a variety of reasons as to why they were one point short.

They fell into an early hole, trailing 19-8 in the first quarter because of the Falcons’ accurate shooting, especially from junior guard Tyler Carlson who would make five three-pointers in the game and lead the team with 17 points.

Still, Granada Hills’ esteemed pressure and trapping defense worked a good part of the night, keeping the team close to the visitors after that early 11-point deficit, although Coach Don Loperena felt that quick start made the Highlanders give the Crescenta Valley offense a wide berth at times.

“We only created eight steals,” Loperena said. “That was gonna be a big factor; [how much] could we turn them over. There were times our guys gave a little too much respect to their shooters. We had some outstanding trap situations we didn’t take because they respected their shooters so much.”

Granada Hills’ offense ran hot-and-cold on the night. The worst cold spell came after having built a 50-45 lead with 5:08 left to play in the fourth quarter. Crescenta Valley then brokered a 10-0 run to move in front, 55-50, as the Highlanders missed six straight shot attempts during that stretch.

“They knocked down some huge shots with our guys in their eyes. Some big shots,” Loperena said. “We countered with very little motion and very much one-on-one sets. Those few possessions were big. We needed to continue to make them move and think on defense. We got into too much of a one-on-one game.”

And then there were the free throws. In that final 5:08, the Falcons made six of eight. The Highlanders made only three of seven.

“Our composure was great. We came back from 11 (points down), we took the lead. But we made some mistakes,” said Bannout, who led Granada Hills with 18 points.

But, again, considering how the 2018-19 season started, this finish doesn’t contaminate the spirit. The Highlanders can still enjoy having won their first City championship since 1987. That accomplishment will probably be honored during the next school year, and it should still resonate with fans and alumni for years after that.

“I’m a bit shocked,” Bannout said afterward. “But I’m embracing everything. This was the last high school game I’m ever gonna play. I’m enjoying everything. Even though it was a loss, I’m embracing it.

“I’m gonna take with me the journey, the championship mentality that we had to go through. That’s what I’m telling the guys. Keep their heads up; they’re City champions. We had an opportunity to be state champions but we gotta move on.”

Loperena also offered some perspective.

“What I’m most proud of: being the top seed in Division I in the City bracket and No. 2 in Division III bracket in the state,” he said. “Unless you just have a stacked team, it is very hard to win as a No. 1 because everybody’s coming for you.

“The guys fought off four athletic, solid teams to get that City championship. And they were No. 2 in the state, trying to fight everybody off. We just ran out of gas…but they can be very proud of that [City championship] the rest of their lives. And they made a nice state run as well.”