By being able to survive some frantic final moments Wednesday, the Laguna Beach High boys' basketball team was able to continue unscathed in Orange Coast League competition.
Laguna went on the road to Costa Mesa, a place where the Breakers generally find all they can handle against the Mustangs. Such was the case again Wednesday, but, like previous trips, the Breakers found a way to emerge victorious.
Laguna survived nine missed free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, 11 three-pointers by the Mustangs, and turned to its defense in the closing seconds, to hold on for a 52-51 victory. The win capped a 5-0 run in the first half of league play and kept the defending champion Breakers alone in first place.
Ranked No. 11 in CIF Southern Section Division 4-AA, the Breakers improved to 16-6 overall.
"I don't think we've ever played real great there [at Costa Mesa]," Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said. "But we came out and played real well in this game, but then didn't play very well after that. We survived it."
Laguna got off to a comfortable start. The Breakers jumped out to an 11-0 lead and led, 17-5, after the first quarter. They had their lead trimmed to 24-20 by the half and maintained that four-point lead (38-34) heading into the fourth quarter.
"We struggled from the field," Fleming said. "We missed some 'chippies' and we were only 14 of 27 from the free-throw line."
The foul line nearly did in the Breakers in the fourth quarter. They missed nine-straight attempts including their final four. Three of the misses came on the front end of one-and-one situations.
Costa Mesa (2-3 in league) got the ball back after Laguna missed its final two attempts, and called timeout with 11 seconds left. After the Mustangs inbounded the ball, a pair of Breakers double-teamed guard Sean Comer, who had hit three three-pointers and tied teammate Kyle Hefner for game scoring honors with 21 points, and the Mustangs weren't able to get off a final shot before time expired.
Senior guard Cole Kesler led Laguna in scoring with 17 points. Senior guard Jake Dalke and junior post Josh Adams both scored 13 points.
The win kept Laguna a game ahead of Godinez (4-1) in the league standings. On Jan. 18, the Breakers handed the Grizzlies their first league defeat, 48-24. Junior guard Alec Wulff, in his first game back from an ankle injury, and junior post Noah Blanton both scored 15 points. Wulff got his 15 by going five for five from three-point range. Adams added 10 points.
The Grizzlies keyed on Kesler (two points) and Dalke (three points) in the game.
"Alec [Wulff] played a great game against Godinez," Fleming said. "I think all of our kids played hard and with a lot of intensity, and we really did a great job defensively. [Godinez] paid a lot of attention to stopping Cole [Kesler] and Jake [Dalke], and I thought Alec, Noah [Blanton] and Josh [Adams] really stepped up and played well."
Laguna starts the second half of league play at 7 p.m. Friday, hosting Estancia at Dugger Gym. After that, the Breakers go on the road for three consecutive league games beginning with a 7 p.m. game Wednesday at Saddleback. They play Feb. 1 at Godinez.
Fleming is pleased to be 5-0 at this point in the league race, but knows the possible pitfalls that could await his team.
"I think the Costa Mesa game showed us that on any given night, we can get beat," he said. "I hope this game shows the kids that they need to be ready to play all four quarters, because we are going to get everybody's best shot in the second round. We have some tough games coming up."
Friday: Estancia, 7 p.m.
Wednesday: at Saddleback, 7 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Godinez, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5: at Calvary Chapel, 7 p.m.
Feb. 7: Costa Mesa, 7 p.m.
Laguna collected its third Orange Coast League victory Tuesday by running away from host Costa Mesa, 56-27. The outcome left the Breakers tied with both Costa Mesa and Godinez for second place in the league standings.
Laguna improved to 15-3 overall and is 3-2 in league at the halfway point of the league season.
"It was a great team victory keyed by an overall excellent defensive effort," Laguna Coach Mark Lewis said. "The defense limited [Costa Mesa] to one shot on most occasions and the shot they got wasn't a great look. The girls handled the full-court press well, which led to some early scoring opportunities in the first half that allowed us to establish an early lead."
The Breakers held a 24-14 halftime lead, then outscored the Mustangs by 10 points in the third quarter to increase their lead.
"In the second half, the girls came out confident and poised and executed on both ends with precision to build a 20-point lead going into the final quarter," Lewis said.
Jackie Cenan paced Laguna in scoring with a game-high 24 points. Jane Wallin had 11 points and Alexandra Lewis hit a three-pointer in each half and finished with 10 points.
"She was particularly effective in the second half after she settled from an up-and-down first half," Lewis said of Cenan. "Jane [Wallin] did much of her damage in the first half to establish our inside presence. Alexandra [Lewis] stretched the defense to help open up the inside for Jane and Jackie. Lewis also did a great job on the defensive glass as well as controlling tempo on the offensive end with good passing, ball handling and opportune scoring."
Laguna gave what Mark Lewis called "probably our poorest performance of the year" on Jan. 17, a 43-36 home loss to Godinez.
"We were flat. We didn't execute the game plan," Lewis said. "The girls did not have the proper focus heading into the game and got tripped up by a senior-led Godinez squad. Not only were our turnovers a factor, but we shot the ball poorly and really struggled from the free-throw line. We did not come ready to play."
Cenan was Laguna's top scorer with 12 points followed by Wallin with 10 points. Kyra Humphries and Mandi Wisbaum scored eight and six points, respectively.
"It is unfortunate we didn't come ready to play, because with the win against Costa Mesa we would be heading into our rematch against Estancia Thursday only one game behind, instead of two," Lewis said. "If we play like we are capable of playing, which we did against Costa Mesa, and have done for much of the year, we have a great opportunity to finish strong in our remaining league contests."
Tuesday: at Saddleback, 7 p.m.
Thursday: at Godinez, 7 p.m.
Feb. 4: at Calvary Chapel, 7 p.m.
Feb. 6: Costa Mesa, 7 p.m.