Who would have thought a team that started the season with a 1-8 record and finished 10-10 would be celebrated?
Hats off to the Sweetwater Red Devils!
An eighth loss in nine games was where coach Wells Gorman’s team stood on January 6, 1957, after a 55-50, Metropolitan League opening-game loss at Helix.
But that score against Helix, the reigning and decidedly favored league champion, was a tell.
Sweetwater had found a different track, shedding the memory of an awful December. They began a run that extended deep into the CIF Southern Section Central Group playoffs.
Coach Wells Gorman, who coached the Class B squad at Coronado before moving across the bay to the National City school this season, directed the sudden and remarkable turnaround.
What followed the loss to Helix was a string of league victories as opponents floundered against the Red Devils’ tight zone defense and patient, pass-oriented offense.
Sweetwater startled favored Chula Vista, 46-31, for its first league win; punished El Cajon Valley, 48-23, suffocated Grossmont, 54-16, and got even with Helix, 51-47, in a game that ended with a near melee between players and fans on the Sweetwater court.
Roger Lively, a 6-foot, 3-inch center who affected an outer-space look with thick, prescription glasses, scored 26 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, as Sweetwater got even with the Highlanders.
Lively was joined in the starting lineup by John Dial, Jack Lensing, Bob Beardsley, and Bob Jordan, a 5-11 sharpshooting guard and blossoming star.
At 4-1 in the circuit and 5-8 overall, the Red Devils stepped out of league play and were briefly interrupted, 45-43, by City League honcho Mission Bay.
The National Citians returned to the league fray with a 56-54 win over Chula Vista on Lively’s hook shot basket with 30 seconds left and followed with a 69-31 dismissal of El Cajon Valley.
Grossmont, closing out a 4-19 season, strategized.
The Foothillers decided to played keep away. They held the ball after the opening jump ball and didn’t attempt a shot for the first four minutes. Guards Mickey Bruce and Larry Dearing played catch along the half-court line.
Sweetwater trailed, 3-0, at the end of the first quarter but had finally nudged ahead, 19-16, in the fourth quarter. At that point, the ‘Devils went into their own stall and finished a 23-19 victory.
THE RUN CONTINUES
More surprises were in store.
Jordan made 10 of 14 field goal attempts and scored 22 points, the Red Devils rapped in 24 of 45 overall for 53 per cent, and shot the favored host San Diego (16-10) out of the playoffs, 57-47.
Next up were the Newport Beach Newport Harbor Tars at neutral Kearny High. Sweetwater won a tense battle, overcoming the visitors with a 15-10 fourth quarter in a 49-45 victory.
Sweetwater won at the free throw line, converting 23 of 27 attempts, with Lively making 10 of 12, and with Dial converting three to give the winners a 47-41 advantage with 2:03 left.
The Red Devils finally were eliminated, 49-41, by tall (one starter 6 feet 7, another 6-4) Los Angeles Mt. Carmel in a quarterfinals game at Point Loma.
The Crusaders (30-1), who reached the finals before losing to El Monte, 55-54, pulled away with a succession of free throws after leading 34-33, at the end of three quarters.
A weekend doubleheader in mid-December seemed to indicate a changing of the guard.
Helix defeated Hoover, 63-46, on Friday night and San Diego, 64-58, on Saturday.
The Highlanders’ parlay, against two City Prep League powers, was usually reserved for Los Angeles-area teams.
Hoover was 25-5 in 1955-56 and returned several players from the squad that finished third in the playoffs. San Diego’s eminence extended almost back to the days of peach baskets.
Helix, although occasionally successful against its urban neighbors, had never been so convincing.
With 6-6 Ronnie Mulder, 6-3 Gael Barsotti and vest-pocket guards John Drumm, Jerry Goins, and John Wible, the Highlanders appeared set to make a run.
Under fourth-year coach Bob Divine, the Scots had shown some muscle during a 15-8 season in 1955-56.
Although stunned in a major surprise earlier by Point Loma, 45-43, Helix had a 6-1 record going into the Kiwanis Tournament and was favored to win its second straight Metropolitan League title.
The Highlanders dismissed Point Loma, 52-40, in their opening Kiwanis game and withered defending champion Beverly Hills with 26 consecutive points in a 29-4 fourth quarter that resulted in a 61-37 victory, punctuated by Barsotti’s 25 points.
Hoover, taking charge with success on 58 per cent of 24 shots in the last two quarters, broke from a 23-23 halftime deadlock to oust Helix, 57-45 in the Kiwanis semifinals.
The Highlanders gained a share of the Metropolitan League championship with Sweetwater and met Hoover again in the playoffs after a 55-50 victory over Long Beach St. Anthony.
The Cardinals were superior again, topping their La Mesa rivals, 51-44, and closing out the Highlanders, who completed a 22-6 season, best in school history, but were an early playoff casualty for the second consecutive season.
Hoover (22-4) was knocked out in the next round by 24-4 El Monte, 57-54.
Jerry Magee of The San Diego Union described El Monte’s 7-foot Bill Engesser as a player “who seemed to move with great gnashing and clanking of gears.”
Engesser did not have to move much. He took high lobs from his shorter teammates and dropped in 25 points, off-setting 19 in the second half by Hoover’s Wayne Adams, the City Prep League’s player of the year.
The 10th annual event featured 32 teams, 8 playing floors, 28 assigned game officials, and 46 total games. All City, Avocado, and Metropolitan league squads were joined by three teams from the Southern Prep League, and St. Augustine.
At the same time, host Sweetwater’s annual Class B tournament began, with teams from Chula Vista, El Cajon Valley, Grossmont, Helix, Coronado. Mar Vista, and St. Augustine.
ALL-SAN DIEGO FINAL
When four area teams, Hoover, Lincoln, Mission Bay, and Helix, reached the Kiwanis Unlimited Division round of four an all-San Diego final was assured for the first time since 1953, when San Diego defeated Hoover, 54-44.
Hoover was in the finals again but lost for the fourth time.
Upstart Mission Bay, bolstered by the transfer from La Jolla of starters Jim Anderson and Doug Crockett, and the arrival of 6-7 ½ Dave Hinds from Leadville, Colorado, nipped the Cardinals, 43-42.
Crockett dribbled half the court after a stolen Hoover pass by Jerry Dinsmore to score the winning basket on a layup with 2 seconds remaining.
The Buccaneers also got past Hoover, 42-40, with a basket in the final eight seconds in the league opener and were 18-7 in their third varsity season but finished third in the CPL with a 7-5 record, including a late-season 50-39 loss to the Cardinals.
The sentries apparently didn’t get the memo.
The old guard maintained, as Hoover and San Diego, with a predominantly underclass starting five led by Artist Gilbert and Edward Lee Johnson, finished 1-2.
Tom Shaules, a 5-foot, 8-inch, 123-pound junior guard, burst on the scene, scoring 22 points in his first game, a 44-37 win over Lincoln, and followed with 36 a week later in a 53-45 triumph over Escondido.
Shaules accelerated the trend to more offense by setting a one-season County record of 587 points. He averaged 25.5 points and improved on the unofficial record of 474, set by the Saints’ John Cunningham in 1954-55.
Shaules averaged 33.5 with 201 points in his final six games. His 49 points in a 87-55 win over Brown Military broke the County record of 47, set by Fallbrook’s Paul Lockridge in 1951 during a 90-31 romp over Brown.
Shaules did not load up on the poor. He also had six other games over 30, including 36 in an 86-72 defeat of Helix that reversed an earlier, 82-58 loss to the Scots.
Still campaigning as an independent, the Saints posted a 13-10 record against varied competition, a decided improvement over the 7-17 of the post-Cunningham squad in 1955-56.
St. Augustine would gain entry to the City Prep League in 1957-58 and Shaules would set additional records with his unorthodox delivery, a jump shot that featured a backward spin on the ball.
Sherman Burroughs High of Ridgecrest, adjacent the China Lake Naval Air Station, made the 224-mile trip to San Diego and the Kiwanis Tournament a rousing success.
The Burros defeated Mar Vista, 47-29, for the Limited Division championship and interrupted an Avocado League dominance of four championships in the previous five years.
Lincoln guard Bob Byrd, who missed two free throws with six seconds to play in regulation time, sent San Diego to the sideline in the Kiwanis quarterfinals when he drained a 15-foot jump shot with five seconds remaining in overtime for a 51-50 victory.
AFTER THE HOLIDAY
Chula Vista (12-12) reached finals of the post-Christmas Chino tournament before bowing to Azusa Citrus and high scoring Billy Kilmer, 54-48. Kilmer scored 17 points after 43 in an opening-round, 78-35 win over Grossmont, and 28 and 22 in the next two games.
Corona, after eliminating Mar Vista (14-15) in the semifinals, defeated Escondido (12-13), 59-44, for the consolation championship.
Helix lost to 12-0 Oxnard, 66-64, after defeating Ventura, 70-60, in the Fillmore Tournament. The Highlanders finished third in the eight-team event, overcoming a 16-point, third quarter deficit to top Burbank Burroughs, 70-69.
Mission Bay’s zone defense never was more effective than against Lincoln (12-12). The Hornets made one of their first 32 field goal attempts and shot 15 per cent overall, 10 for 63, in a 38-24 loss to the Buccaneers.
SIGNS OF THE TIME
Fifteen players got into the game and 14 scored as Helix set a Metropolitan League scoring record in a 97-50 win over El Cajon Valley.
Oceanside emerged with an Avocado League record after an 83-48 victory over San Dieguito.
St. Augustine was a 66-32 winner at Brown Military although Tom Shaules was held to a season low 11 points.
Julian, Ramona, and Army-Navy tied for first in the Southern Prep League but Army-Navy was odd man out in coin flips to determine which teams went to the playoffs. Julian and Ramona advanced.
Oceanside (14-7) was one and done in the Southern Group playoffs after a quarterfinals, 71-57 loss to San Jacinto, which had beaten Ramona, 49-36, in the first round. Tustin eliminated Julian, 62-45.
Rancho del Campo finished with three players on the court after 4 of the seven-man roster fouled out in a 55-32 loss to Brown Military.
There were 17 lead changes, four in the game’s final minute, before Hoover’s Wayne Adams, laboring with 4 fouls since midway of the second quarter, converted two free throws in the last five seconds to give Hoover a 51-50 win over Lincoln.
Julian’s Quinten Fernald led all Kiwanis scorers with 88 points in four games, the final a 45-35 loss to Hemet in the Limited Division consolation windup…also starting for Julian was Quint’s brother, Denny…Helix coach Bob Divine missed several games in December after contacting pneumonia…assistant coach Dave LeFever directed the early victory over Hoover…Hoover made 17 successive free throws and defeated Glendale, 47-36, and host San Diego nipped Glendale Hoover, 43-42, in a December twinbill at San Diego…switching sites, host Hoover beat Glendale Hoover, 54-25, and Glendale topped San Diego, 52-46…Lincoln was a loser, 46-33 and 53-31, in Long Beach against Wilson and Millikan…first-year Escondido coach Gene Taylor was 107-23 in the previous five years at Clifton, Arizona, 12-13 in his only season here…Chick Embrey replaced Walter West as head coach of Escondido football after West moved to Oceanside as basketball coach…Kiwanis director Darrell (Snuffy) Smith reported that at least 60 per cent of the 400 participating players were 6 feet or taller…Mission Bay coaches Kenny Hale and Chuck Coover produced a Buccaneers “press brochure”….