The game is taking place in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 bracket, but there’s a real Division 1 feel around Friday night’s Long Beach Poly vs. Orange Lutheran first-round battle., set to kick off at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m.
For one thing, both teams are traditional Division 1 powers, with some recent success. They played in the Division 1 quarterfinals in 2013 and in the Division 1 semifinals in 2007, when Poly famously beat the Lancers 2-0.
Poly head coach Stephen Barbee has heard the chatter about his team not making the eight-team Division 1 bracket, and he’s not particularly interested in it.
“It’s one of those things we have no control over,” he said. “All we can do is go out and try to prepare the best that we can to try and win on Friday. We’re playing a really tough O Lu team that’s big and physical and we’re looking forward to the game.”
Poly’s mixed things up a little this week, holding a night practice for the first time on Burcham Field thanks to last year’s renovations to the stadium, adding field turf and (for the first time in the field’s 100+ year history) lighting.
Poly luminaries like Jerry Jaso and Don Norford also came to watch practices and speak to the team.
This Friday will answer a lot of questions about the Jackrabbits. The last time they played a team higher than Division 6 was in their nonleague schedule, when they went 1-3. The young Poly team was still struggling to find an identity at that point, and those games don’t have much bearing on Friday. Neither does Poly’s usual march through the Moore League, facing teams that were physically overmatched.
Friday is when fans will find out how much Poly improved this year. Is their offensive line good enough to run the ball against a Trinity League team? Is Mehki Jordan settled in enough under center to lead a Poly offense when the opponent is as athletic and skilled as Poly? Is the Poly defense good enough to shut down a Trinity League team?
Poly (7-3, 6-0) will certainly come in hungry, but so will O Lu (5-5, 1-4). After all, both are in the Division 2 playoffs, and both are used to being in Division 1.
The winner will face the winner of Rancho Cucamonga and Murrieta Valley next week in the quarterfinals. If the Jackrabbits advance, they’d be on the road for the quarterfinals regardless of opponent.