Winter playoffs are finally here. This week will be busy one with a total of 46 local teams playing either wild-card or first-round games. Now let’s get prepared and take a look at our expectations for the postseason. Basketball games are scheduled for 7 p.m. and soccer games for 5 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
• RANKED TEAMS: Div. 1AA — No. 14 Silverado; Div. 2A — No. 12 Oak Hills; Div. 5AA — No. 13 Riverside Prep.
• LAST YEAR’S TOP POSTSEASON PERFORMER: Hesperia Christian made it to the Div. 6 semifinals before losing to California Lutheran 53-50.
• LOCAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: Silverado (DSL), Oak Hills (MRL), Riverside Prep (CVL), Excelsior (AL).
• FIRST-ROUND GAMES: Div. 1AA (Friday) — Los Alamitos at Silverado; Div. 2AA (Friday) — Ontario at Victor Valley; Div. 2A (Friday) — Citrus Hills at Oak Hills; Serrano at Canyon/Anaheim; Div. 3AAA (Wednesday) — Claremont at Apple Valley; Div. 3A (Wednesday) — Northview at Burroughs; Barstow at Gladstone; Div. 4A (Wednesday) — Viewpoint at Excelsior; St. Monica Catholic at University Prep; Div. 5AA (Wednesday) — Academy of Careers and Exploration at Bellarmine-Jefferson; Poly/Pasdena at Academy of Academic Excellence; Vasquez at Riverside Prep; Div. 5A (Wednesday) — Valley Torah at Lucerne Valley; Div. 6. (Wednesday) — Hesperia Christian at Joshua Springs.
• FIVE IMPACT PLAYERS: Mateo Jones, Silverado; Kristian Keys, Silverado; Jerad Montgomery, Excelsior; JT Roach, Apple Valley; William Uelese, Oak Hills.
• SLEEPER TEAM: Apple Valley put together an impressive run in the final weeks of the season, going 4-0 in the last round of play in a tough MRL. The Sun Devils arguably have the best collection of talent in the High Desert after Silverado with four players averaging at least 10.7 points per game.
• OUR TAKE: We’d be higher on Silverado’s playoff hopes if the Hawks didn’t play in a absolutely brutal division. They’re supremely talented and athletic. But playing in Div. 1AA means they’ll get tested right away and it will be tough to get out of the second round — where they will likely face Centennial/Corona, which beat them 80-46 earlier this season.
With a strong defense and the return of A.J. Walton, MRL champion Oak Hills could make a run in Div. 2A.
Excelsior will be an interesting team to watch. The Eagles didn’t have the transfers they thought they’d have at the beginning of the season, but that hasn’t slowed them down. Can this high-scoring team keep it up against tougher competition?
• RANKED TEAMS: Div. 2A — No. 9 Oak Hills; Div. 3A — No. 8 Burroughs; 5AA — No. 10 Riverside Prep; Div. 5A — No. 5 Academy for Academic Excellence; Div. 6 — No. 13 Hesperia Christian.
• LAST YEAR’S TOP POSTSEASON PERFORMER: Silverado, Serrano and Hesperia Christian all reached the second round before losing.
• LOCAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: Silverado (DSL), Oak Hills (MRL), Riverside Prep (CVL), AAE (AL).
• FIRST-ROUND GAMES: Div. 1AA (Saturday) — Knight at Silverado; Div. 2AA (Saturday) — Serrano at JW North; Div. 2A (Saturday) — Redlands East Valley at Oak Hills; Saugus at Sultana; Div. 3A (Thursday) — Tahquitz at Burroughs; St. Joseph/Lakewood at Barstow; Div. 4A (Thursday) — Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary at University Prep; Excelsior at Westridge (6 p.m.); Div. 5AA (Thursday) — Silver Valley at Frazier Mountain; Academy of Careers and Exploration at St. Margaret’s; Bishop Union at Riverside Prep; Div. 5A (Saturday) — TBD at Academy for Academic Excellence; Div. 6 (Thursday) — New Harvest Christian at Hesperia Christian.
• FIVE IMPACT PLAYERS: Ebony Black-Smith, Silverado; Adorie Howard, Serrano; Natalie Osborne, Sultana; Jannon Otto, Oak Hills; Nikki Gruver, AAE.
• SLEEPER TEAMS: Sally Orlando’s Hesperia Christian teams are always strong. Despite being dethroned in the AL, they’re the best sleeper pick in the H.D.
• OUR TAKE: Oak Hills enters the playoffs having had its way with MRL competition in an unbeaten league schedule. With just three seniors and six sophomores, the Bulldogs are built for the future. But we think it’s possible the Bulldogs can make a run right now given their No. 9 ranking in Div. 2A. They won’t have to face a top-seven seed until the quarterfinals.
This year was all about getting over humps for AAE. First the Knights beat Hesperia Christian twice to take the AL. The next big hump is the postseason. They lost in the first round last year, but we think AAE will have a better showing this season.
• RANKED TEAMS: Div. 4 — No. 2 Oak Hills; Div. 5 — No. 6 Silverado, No. 8 Granite Hills.
• LAST YEAR’S TOP POSTSEASON PERFORMER: University Prep lost 4-1 to Cate in the Div. 7 finals and then lost in the first round of the CIF SoCal Regional Championships.
• LOCAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: Silverado (DSL), Oak Hills (MRL), AAE (CVL).
• WILD-CARD GAMES: Div. 4 (Wednesday) — Perris at Sultana; Div. 5 (Wednesday) — Tahquitz at Victor Valley; Div. 6 (Wednesday) — University Prep at Webb.
• FIRST-ROUND GAMES: Div. 4 (Friday) — Temescal Canyon at Hesperia; North Torrance at Oak Hills; Div. 5 (Friday) — Arroyo at Granite Hills; TBD at Silverado; Div. 6 (Friday) — Riverside Prep at Firebaugh; TBD at Academy of Academic Excellence.
• FIVE IMPACT PLAYERS: Silvano Gonzalez, Silverado; Jose Nuno, Oak Hills; Victor Palafox, Victor Valley; Ryan Pinkerton, Granite Hills; Sage Smith, Oak Hills.
• SLEEPER TEAM: Victor Valley narrowly missed out on taking the DSL title, but that doesn’t mean the Jackrabbits won’t be a team to watch in the playoffs. It will, however, be a tough journey for the ’Rabbits as they start as a wild-card team.
• OUR TAKE: The DSL might be the best league in Div. 5. We won’t be surprised to see all three teams make runs. Silverado and Granite Hills are both good bets to reach the quarterfinals at least.
Oak Hills always has to be considered. It has reached at least the semis three straight years and continues to churn out great seasons despite losing players. The Bulldogs could find themselves back in the semis again. They’ve been ranked near the top of Div. 4 all season. Artesia claimed the No. 1 seed in the division with an unbeaten season, but its last loss came to Oak Hills in the playoffs last season.
• RANKED TEAMS: Div. 3 — No. 10 Granite Hills; Div. 4 — No. 4 Serrano; Div. 7 — No. 9 University Prep.
• LAST YEAR’S TOP POSTSEASON PERFORMER: Granite Hills and Serrano both reached the second round before losing.
• LOCAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: Granite Hills (DSL), Serrano (MRL), University Prep (CVL).
• WILD-CARD GAMES: Div. 4 (today) — Oak Hills at Chino; Lynwood at Apple Valley; Div. 7 (today) Academy for Academic Excellence at Hamilton.
• FIRST-ROUND GAMES: Div. 3 (Thursday) — Bonita at Granite Hills; Barstow at Walnut; Mayfield at Victor Valley; Div. 4 (Thursday) — TBD at Serrano; Sultana at Torrance; Div. 7 (Thursday) — TBD at University Prep; Riverside Prep at Montebello.
• FIVE IMPACT PLAYERS: Michelle Alozie, Granite Hills; Suenly Galvez, Sultana; Kellsie Gleason, Serrano; Jennifer Russell, Serrano; Katie Saavedra, Granite Hills.
• SLEEPER TEAM: Sultana ended the season on a 5-2-1 run with its only losses coming to Granite Hills and Serrano. The Sultans overtook Apple Valley for second place in the MRL down the stretch. The MRL was a strong league this year, and Sultana’s late season performance may speak to how good they can be in the postseason.
• OUR TAKE: Granite Hills and Serrano are legitimate title contenders. Serrano will be well served by dropping to Div. 4 before the season. The D’backs have a great combination of speed and defense.
Granite Hills has been out of the Div. 3 rankings and under the radar for most of the season. But with Alozie’s speed and sense for the net, no game seems out of reach for the Cougars.
University Prep blew through local competition this season. Can the girls start to emulate the success the boys have had in recent years?