By Van Williams
Classic Media Director
Too much Tae. As in Tae Simmons, who led the Heritage Christian Warriors out of Northridge, California to a commanding 50-35 victory over the previously undefeated East Anchorage T-birds in the semifinals of the Alaska Airlines Classic at West High.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore was sensational with a 26-point, 13-rebound performance that lifted the Los Angeles area team to Saturday’s tournament championship game against Grace Christian of Anchorage.
Even though the highflying Warriors were grounded for most of the night against East, Simmons and fellow skywalker Seven Bahati had monster mash dunks. But Heritage also missed two dunks. Still, this team is more than just style points.
The Warriors (15-6) grind up opponents defensively, with all five players moving like one heartbeat. They all switch seamlessly and put every ballhandler under stress that leaves the other team’s offense in a mess.
The T-birds committed 15 turnovers and made only 14-of-44 shots from the field. They made just 4-of-21 3-pointers, often taking a quick long-range shot because there was daylight. It seemed like everything inside the arc was tough sledding with Heritage’s length and strength. They challenged every pass, pushing East out farther and farther.
Meanwhile, the offense revolved around Simmons. Or maybe it just seemed like that. The fabulous forward, a 15-year-old who looks like a college player, was like a magnet with the ball. The Warriors did a nice job getting their star the ball in position to score, which he did almost at will.
Simmons netted nine of his team’s first 19 points, all coming at point-blank range on drives and rebounds. He wasn’t finished. Simmons crashed the boards and attacked the rim, leading to free throws and extra-chance points. When he knocked down an elbow jumper, it was like, this kid’s the total package.
Despite all of that, East (7-1) hung tough. Deshawn Rushmeyer and Axel Carpio came to play and were the only two T-birds who found any rhythm on offense.
Rushmeyer scored 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He was slashing, shooting and did not wilt under the bright lights of the Alaska Airlines Classic and a crowd of more than 2,000. The senior played key minutes in last year’s tournament and helped East reach the title game against another California power, St. Josephs of Santa Maria.
Carpio scored 10 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers, his second coming early in the third quarter that pulled East within 32-19. Moments later, Akeem Sulaiman got free for a two-handed flush. Seconds later, he was whistled for his fourth personal foul and took a seat on the bench.
One of the heroes that helped East reach the title game, Muhammed Sabally, was limited to just five points because he was shadowed by Bahati, a 6-foot-4 defensive wiz who picked up Sabally full court and held the T-bird all-star to 1-of-9 shooting.
Victor Meza’s 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter pulled East as close a 42-31, but too much Simmons (he had breakaway one-handed slam) and too much Giovanni Goree (14 points) down the stretch helped Heritage seal the deal. Goree, the state’s reigning Division III player of the year, is a dynamic floor general who killed East by executing drives and shooting 7-for-11.
The T-birds will face archrival West Anchorage in Saturday’s third-place game in a matchup between two of the best teams in the Cook Inlet Conference.
Heritage 19 12 9 10 – 50
East 5 9 12 9 – 35
HERITAGE – Bahati 7, Grant 0, Perry 0, Fisher 3, O’Connor 0, Goree 14, Simmons 26.
EAST – Carpio 10, Velez 0, Meza 7, Rushmeyer 11, Cooper 0, Sulaiman 2, George 0, Speakman 0, Sabally 5, Tharjiath 0.