Down the stretch in the regular season, the Edison High boys' basketball team had its struggles. The Chargers lost two of their final three Sunset League games, allowing Newport Harbor to catch them and grab a share of the league title.
The bittersweet ending is in the past, and Edison made amends with a dominant 86-62 first-round victory over visiting Esperanza on Wednesday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
Senior forward Spencer Serven had 21 points to lead the Chargers over the reigning CIF State Division II champions. The Chargers (21-7) will travel to top-seeded Oak Park (20-6) for their second-round game on Friday at 7 p.m.
Edison saw a much different Esperanza team, one that had graduated former Orange County Player of the Year and current Stanford freshman Kezie Okpala. The main holdover from the Aztecs' state title team was senior forward Brendan Harrick.
Although Harrick had 21 points on Wednesday, Chargers coach Rich Boyce praised the defensive effort of his team.
"We can defend, and we have some guys that can make it tough on the perimeter," Boyce said. "If they get beat, we have that shot blocker back there. It makes our defense good if we can stay up on the shooters."
The anchor of the defense Boyce was referring to was University of Portland-bound Josh Phillips. The senior scored 11 points to go with 16 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
"This is one of his best games that he has played in a while," Boyce said. "He was very animated, into the game, and very focused. I thought that he took a lot of the stuff that they wanted to do away because they normally beat guys going to the basket, but there was Josh."
Edison's lead shrunk no lower than 10 points in the second half. The Chargers had fun in sharing the basketball after the break. On their opening possession of the third quarter, senior guard Matt Palma threw a lob to a cutting Aiden Garnett for an alley-oop dunk that extended Edison's lead to 39-23.
Phillips also had plenty of bounce in his step, looking to throw down slam dunks whenever he got the ball close to the hoop.
"We just had to get out and run," Phillips said, adding that his team came out with a lot of energy. "We were throwing some lobs out there, playing fun basketball."
Defense allowed the Chargers to play that brand of basketball. Outside of Harrick, the Aztecs (17-11) did not have another player who reached double-digits in scoring.
"We were trying to stop [Harrick] and [Julian Almazan]," Serven said. "That was our game plan. We were just going to shade them the whole night and try to stop them that way."
Almazan notched nine points, four of those coming in a fourth quarter that saw Edison hold at least a 20-point lead throughout.
Trevor Geiger added eight points for Esperanza, and Jason Francis and Isaiah Alvarez each had seven points.
Edison had four players score in double figures. Senior point David Atencio had 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Garnett added 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.
In the first half, Esperanza brought a 26-16 Edison lead down to a four-point margin when Harrick's layup made it 27-23 with three minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Chargers rattled off the next 10 points, fueled by a pair of Palma three-pointers to bookend the run and give Edison a 37-23 halftime edge.
Edison 86, Esperanza 62
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Esperanza 9 – 14 – 15 – 24 — 62
Edison 17 – 20 – 26 – 23 — 86
E – Harrick 21, Almazan 9, Geiger 8, Francis 7, Alvarez 7, Price 3, Kibby 3, Steinbeck 2, Noble 2.
3-pt. goals – Harrick 5, Price 1, Alvarez 1, Geiger 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Ed – Serven 21, Atencio 15, Garnett 15, Phillips 11, Palma 6, Headington 5, Barrett 3, Sale 2, Strauss 1, Hilman 2, Collins 2, Komisza 2, Fix 1.
3-pt. goals – Palma 2, Serven 2, Atencio 1, Barrett 1, Garnett 1, Headington 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.