They’ve been a surprise team all season and now Garfield High School is a victory away from winning its first City Section basketball title.
The third-seeded Bulldogs will make their first appearance in a City Section final on Saturday when they play top-seeded Chatsworth (24-9) for the boys’ Division III title at Roybal Learning Center in downtown. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.
Garfield (21-6) got past No. 2 Grant, 67-65, in the semifinals to advance to the finals.
“I am so happy for these kids,” Garfield Coach Ricardo Rivas said. “They have worked so hard all year to get here. They’re not the most talented Garfield team I’ve seen, but the hardest working. They’re great kids who’ve done better than most thought they would.”
Last Friday, Garfield’s Nato Munoz scored on a putback with two seconds remaining to lift the Bulldogs to the semifinal win at Grant.
Down by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Bulldogs refused to quit and made several runs to catch the Lancers (19-11). They overcame the 17-point lead only to fall behind by as many as 10 again in the second half.
But they stormed back again and Garfield’s Julian Sandoval hit a three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining to tie the score, 65-65. The Bulldogs got a break when because the Lancers missed a slam dunk that would have put them ahead with nine seconds left.
After a time out, Sandoval missed a shot, but Garfield’s Joe Joaquin tipped the ball twice before it fell into the hands of Munoz who put it in to give Garfield the win. It was the only time Garfield led in the game.
“You talk about a huge basket,” Rivas said. “What a finish. What a team.”
Sandoval finished the game with a team-leading 21 points. Joaquin scored 15 points and David Laroue had 12 points on four 3-point shots before fouling out. He missed all of the third quarter because of foul trouble and fouled less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
“Fortunately, Angel Camacho did a really good job while Laroue was out,” Rivas said. “He really stepped up, especially at the point guard position.”
Grant was led by Gor Plavchyan with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Travon Thomas had 24 points.
Garfield now has to figure out a way to stop Chatsworth. The Chancellors pulled away from Hamilton in the fourth quarter last Friday to score a 68-53 semifinal victory.
“They have a good inside and outside game, and they’re known for being very aggressive,” said Rivas prior to watching a tape on Chatsworth.
Besides Hamilton, the Chancellors also defeated Monroe, 69-33, and Manual Arts, 79-38, in the playoffs. They finished fourth behind Taft, El Camino Real and Cleveland in the competitive West Valley League.
Chatsworth is led by guards Terrell Funches, who is averaging 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and Derrick Hector (14 points and 4.4 assists per game), and forward Jason Monje (10.2 points, 4.6 rebounds per game).
Garfield defeated Poly, 74-69, and Banning, 75-50, before Grant to reach the finals. Prior to this season, the Bulldogs deepest drive in the playoffs came in 2007 when they reached the semifinals and eventually losing to Jordan.
Rivas, a 1995 Garfield graduate, was an assistant coach on the team.
“That was a tough one to take because we had beaten Jordan twice in league that year,” he recalled.
Current assistant coaches Emilio Chavez and Henry Campos played on the team.
“Our assistant coaches have really done a good job keeping the players focused,” Rivas said. “Emilio does a really good job with the Xs and Os. I just manage the team,” he quipped.