Maybe this is the season the Edison High boys’ basketball team claims the outright Sunset League title for the first time under coach Rich Boyce.
The Chargers have shared first four times with Boyce at the helm, last season, in 2014-15, 2010-11 and 2004-05. This season their biggest test was supposed to come from Newport Harbor.
The two programs met on Friday in a first-place battle that wasn’t much of one with about a minute to go in the third quarter as host Edison took a 20-point lead, its largest of the night. Boyce figured the Sailors would make it a game in the fourth quarter. That they did.
Robbie Spooner caught fire in the fourth quarter, hitting two three-pointers and scoring 10 of his 17 points. He and Sam Barela helped cut Edison’s lead to six with 1:17 left, but point guard David Atencio and Josh Phillips, a former Newport Harbor big man, closed things out for Edison.
Atencio made two free throws late, as did Phillips, and Edison won 59-48 to improve to 3-0 in league and take sole possession of the top spot.
Atencio finished with a game-high 20 points to go with six rebounds and four steals. While Atencio led Edison offensively, the senior’s defensive effort on Newport Harbor’s Dayne Chalmers stood out as well.
Chalmers, the Sailors’ top offensive threat, only had four points. The 6-foot-4 junior did not take many shots, only three, making his first two.
He’s their leading scorer, and when you stop their leading scorer, you know you’re going to get the win.
Edison point guard David Atencio
The two sport-standouts, Atencio also plays football and Chalmers volleyball, matched up after Edison’s Spencer Serven got into foul trouble. Serven, who normally defends the opposing team’s best scoring forward, picked up two fouls in the first quarter.
“I just kind of denied him [the ball],” said Atencio, referring to Chalmers. “He’s their leading scorer, and when you stop their leading scorer, you know you’re going to get the win.”
Edison has won a lot since it began the season 2-3, winning 11 of its last 13 games. The first three setbacks of the season were by a combined 13 points.
Defense has been the key to the Chargers’ success. In their past 13 contests, the Chargers (13-5 overall) have held 10 of their opponents below 50 points.
Edison became the first program to keep Newport Harbor under 50 points this season. Turnovers had a lot to do with slowing down the Sailors (14-5, 2-1 in league), ranked No. 12 in the CIF Southern Section Division 2A poll.
Turnovers plagued the Sailors in the first half. They turned the ball over 14 times, splitting them up between the first and second quarters. The turnovers did not affect Newport Harbor in the first quarter, as it trailed 10-6.
But the Sailors could not make shots. Zack Swies finally hit a shot, going to his right for a layup with 4:46 left in the first half. The field goal marked Newport Harbor’s first since Barela’s runner at the 4:45-mark in the opening quarter.
The Sailors went almost 6½ minutes without a field goal, and it cost them dearly. Edison broke the game open by going on a 10-0 run to take a 28-12 lead with 1:40 to go before halftime.
Atencio got the Chargers running. He scored four points, came up with two steals and had an assist during the spurt that saw Newport Harbor commit four turnovers, two of which it uncharacteristically threw the ball out of bounds.
“When you have that many turnovers against a team that is not even pressing you, you’re going have a hard time scoring,” said Newport Harbor coach Bob Torribio, whose team at one point trailed 47-27 in the third quarter. “I think you saw the other four guys were trying to do too much. We weren’t ourselves that first half. The ball did not get to Dayne’s hands enough. We were probably shooting it a little too quickly. Give Edison all the credit in the world, [it] rattled us there in the first half. We couldn’t settle down.”
Torribio’s Sailors got back in it because they took care of the ball in the fourth quarter. An 8-0 run, which started in the final eight seconds of the third and went into the first three minutes of the fourth, also helped Newport Harbor’s cause.
Aiden Garnett stopped the momentum for a little bit. He knocked down a three-pointer with 4:34 left, giving him 12 points and Edison’s lone basket in the fourth.
Spooner, who came off the bench and scored all of his 17 points in the second half, answered by draining two of his three three-pointers in the fourth. Barela also chipped in five points in the final two minutes. Chalmers came up with a steal that led to Barela’s first field goal in the second half.
Barela, who had 15 points, converted three of four free throws late, including two to trim Edison’s lead to 53-47. A 20-6 run by Newport Harbor made it a two-possession game with 1:17 left.
The Chargers put the game away at the free-throw line. They made six of eight free throws down the stretch, ensuring the Chargers’ 10th straight win at home over Newport Harbor.
“I’m just happy we hung on and got this one,” said Boyce, who had to remind his team about the Sailors’ resiliency. “If you think Newport’s done, you’re wrong. They’re going to keep battling.”
Newport Harbor, which has not won at Edison in 10 seasons, can stay in the hunt for first. The Sailors will most likely have to win their next three to remain a game back of the Chargers.
Edison travels to Newport Harbor on Jan. 29. For the Sailors to have any shot at winning their first league crown since 2001-02, they will have to beat the Chargers the second time around.
Last season, Los Alamitos was able to take down Edison late, and the two split the league championship. Boyce, in his 18th season at Edison, and the Chargers want the league to themselves this season.