PaliHi Basketball Teams Advance to Regional CIF Semifinals, Both at Home on Saturday

The PaliHi bench watches as teammate Sheldon Zanders makes a twisting layup over his shoulder.

Pali’s Boys Team Continues to Roll:

PaliHi beat visiting San Ysidro on Thursday, 56-49, to reach the Division 4 Regional semifinals, which will be held on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Palisades.

Coach Donzell Hayes, who played at Pali, said: “We prepared for the game–they are a great team and I knew they’d be really good.”

What Hayes couldn’t prepare for was the attendance of L.A. Lakers star LeBron James and rapper YG, who came to watch San Ysidro’s Mikey Williams, a 6’4” freshman, who was averaging 30.2 points per game and is currently ranked 33rd in the country among high school scorers.

The PaliHi gym was filled to capacity before the game began, causing administrators to shut the doors, leaving nearly 100 people outside, unable to get in to watch the game. Even Coach Hayes’ wife couldn’t get in, until a security guard located her and brought her in.

The heat and humidity inside were beyond intense, and people were pressed against the walls and seated along the floor to watch the game.

Why would LeBron come to this game from his Brentwood home? His son, also a freshman, plays for Sierra Canyon and has competed against Williams, who in 2018 was already considered a top college prospect in the class of 2023.

The San Ysidro Cougars came into the game with a 25-9 overall record, but ran up against a tough Dolphins defense, which held Williams to 21 points.

Pali’s Anthony Spencer had 17 points, Sheldon Zenders 15 and Graham Alphonson 12.

Circling the News asked Coach Hayes what it meant for his team to play in front of one of the all-time great NBA players. LeBron has three NBA championships, four MVP awards, and two Olympic gold medals.

“We weren’t nervous,” he said. “Preparation trumps nerves. We followed the game plan, the players never strayed.”

“The support we received from the fans was fantastic,” Hayes added. “That made the world to me and to the team.”

The score went back and forth in the first half. Three seconds before halftime, the Dolphins were behind 26-25, when Pali’s Dylan Griffin sank a shot from mid-court to give his team a 28-26 lead.

The third quarter stayed close, but the Dolphins managed to move ahead 38-31 early in the fourth. With 1:39 left to play, San Isidro pulled to 51-47, but subsequent fouls enabled Pali to win handily, 56-49.

About the win, Hayes said, “I’m grateful and proud.”

Residents are urged to come to the gym on Saturday at 6 p.m. to watch the second-seeded Dolphins take on third-seeded St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy. The regional finals will be played at host sites on March 10.

LeBron James was on hand to watch the PaliHi versus San Ysidro game.


Fans rushed out of the stands after the game to congratulate the Dolphins on their win.

Pali Girls Play Sloppy but Keep Advancing: 

As Alexis Pettis  shoots a free throw, her teammates move in for a rebound.

Saturday will feature a true double-header of great basketball at Palisades High School, when the Dolphins host Mater Dei Catholic at 5 p.m. (before the boys’ game).

Pali reached the regional semifinals by beating Crean Lutheran of Newport Beach, 54-42, on Thursday night at home.

Second-seeded Palisades (24-8 for the season) and the 10th-seeded Saints (28-6), were tied 10-10 at the end of the first quarter.  The Dolphins then pulled away, outing the Saints 34-21 over the next two quarters.

Coached by Adam Levine, Pali’s top scorers were senior Jane Nwaba with 17, sophomore Demoni Lagway with 16 and juniors Alexis Pettis and Ivy Scott with 8.

“This was probably the sloppiest game we’ve played in the tournaments, including the City championship [won by Pali] and the regionals,” Levine said. “We weren’t focused and there were too many distractions.”

Some of the distraction came from the game before (PaliHi boys versus San Ysidro), when a crowd of people surrounded LeBron James and officials tried to clear the gym so that the girls could take the floor to play the game immediately after the boys’ game.

But in spite of the slow beginning for the Dolphins, Levine praised his players for how they prevailed against a tough team. “We weathered the distraction and settled in,” he said.

Nwaba, with her experience, was a steadying force, and Levin added, “It was Demoni who carried us in the second half.”

Levine is not making any predictions about the next game because “at this point, they’re all good teams.”

But he added, “We’re at home. We’re pretty good at home.”

It would be nice if the community, especially given all the girls who play basketball at the Palisades Recreation Center, would come and support the local team.


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