A top-three finish in the Orange Coast League girls' basketball standings will be on the line Friday for the Laguna Beach Breakers.
Laguna and Costa Mesa are both tied for third place in the standings and will break that deadlock when they clash at 6 p.m. at Saddleback High. The Mustangs set up the game by handing the host Breakers a 36-31 defeat Wednesday at Dugger Gym.
The win allowed Costa Mesa to climb into a tie for third with Laguna. Both teams finished 6-4 in league play. The winner of Friday's game gains an automatic berth in next week's CIF Southern Section playoffs.
The Breakers played Wednesday's contest without leading scorer and rebounder Jackie Cenan, who was not available due to illness, Laguna Coach Mark Lewis said.
"The girls played hard," Lewis said. "As I told them afterward, I was proud of the effort. We just didn't execute as we should have.
"We were missing Jackie [Cenan]. Defensively, we played well for the most part. Costa Mesa was quicker and hungrier for loose balls and second-chance rebound opportunities. We were also quite careless with our ball handling and passing especially down the stretch, which either led to scoring opportunities for Costa Mesa or at least limited our opportunities on our offensive end."
The Breakers were also plagued in the foul department and were whistled for 24 fouls. The Mustangs reached the double bonus in both halves.
"We had two girls foul out, [and] two others were limited in playing time throughout the game due to foul trouble," Lewis said. "So, combined with Jackie [Cenan] being out, we were challenged from a personnel standpoint."
Alexandra Lewis hit four, three-pointers and led all scorers with 12 points.
The Breakers are 18-5 overall heading into Friday's rematch with the Mustangs. Their five losses are by a combined 26 points.
"As has been the case in all of five of our losses this season, we are a good team capable of winning any game we play," Mark Lewis said. "We just need to tighten up our execution, play with a greater sense of urgency, and be more consistent in winning the close ones.
"We have won a few close ones this season, such as games against Ocean View, Western, Coachella Valley, and Estancia, so we can do it. We just need to improve on our consistency in doing so."
Prior to taking on Costa Mesa, Laguna split league games against Calvary Chapel and Godinez.
The Breakers completed a three-game league road swing Monday with a trip to Santa Ana, and returned with a 62-29 rout of host Calvary Chapel. The win followed up what Lewis said was a "tough loss" Jan. 31 at Godinez.
Cenan led a balanced Laguna offense with 19 points. Jane Wallin also scored in double figures with 11 points. Mandi Wisbaum hit three three-pointers and finished with nine points while Alexandra Lewis and Kylie Even each scored seven points. Francesca Cecutti (four points) and Kyra Humphries and Kendra Overstreet (two points each) completed the scoring.
The win allowed Laguna to sweep Calvary Chapel: the Breakers previously defeated the Eagles, 45-20, in the first round of league play on Jan. 15.
Laguna relinquished sole possession of second place on Jan. 31 when the Breakers lost, 40-36, at Godinez. The win allowed the Grizzlies to move into a share of second place.
The game was an uphill battle for the Breakers from the start. They trailed, 25-9, at the half, but put up a furious rally and caught the Grizzlies at 32-32.
Free-throw shooting, or lack thereof, had a direct bearing on Laguna's success: the Breakers made just 12 of 31 attempts (39%) from the foul line.
"Once again, we came out flat against Godinez," said Lewis, whose team had lost to the Grizzlies, 43-36, in the team's first meeting on Jan. 17. "We struggled to score missing on several close-range shots and only managed nine points in the first half with only a single made free throw to show for the entire second quarter.
"Despite our poor play overall, we still had a chance to steal the victory had we shot better from the free-throw line."
Wallin led Laguna in scoring with 12 points. Cenan scored 11, Humphries had seven points and Wisbaum, Even and Alexandra Lewis each had two points.
The CIF Southern Section girls' basketball division pairings will be announced Sunday. Playoff games begin Thursday.
The Breakers are, once again, champions of the Orange Coast League.
Still, with the title already in hand before Thursday's league finale against Costa Mesa, Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said his team wouldn't mention being league champs until the Mesa game was in the books.
"I think for us, our being league champions means going undefeated," he said. "That's been our goal this year."
The Breakers had a chance to complete an undefeated run by defeating the Mustangs. They went into the game 9-0 in league, and 20-6 overall. The score from Thursday's game wasn't available at press time.
Laguna won 20 games for the first time in four years, since the program strung together three, 20-win seasons between 2007-09.
The Breakers on Tuesday scored a 58-40 victory at Calvary Chapel in a game that was the last, and third-straight, road game of the regular season. They took an 18-8 lead after one quarter and extended their advantage to 32-15 by halftime. They built the lead to more than 20 points in the second half, and held command the rest of the way.
Senior guard Cole Kesler led all scorers with 19 points and junior post Noah Blanton scored 18 for the Breakers.
"We learned a lesson from the Godinez game and came out ready to play against Calvary," Fleming said. "I thought Calvary played well coming out, but we were able to open up a good lead. We were up, 18-8, in the first quarter and that was a really good sign, to me, that we were focused and ready to play."
Fleming said focus was missing Feb. 1 when Laguna played a key league game at Godinez. The score was tied at 7-7 after the first quarter and the Grizzlies, a team the Breakers had rolled past, 48-24, on Jan. 18, were able to take a 17-16 halftime lead.
Laguna turned the game around in the second half. The Breakers went in front to stay in the third quarter, then pulled away by outscoring the Grizzlies, 17-7, in the fourth quarter.
"I think the kids would agree with me, that we didn't come out ready to play," Fleming said. "We didn't do things I had hoped we would do in the first half, but the kids played really well in the second half. Cole [Kesler] and Alec [Wulff] both started getting loose in the second half and knocked down some threes."
Kesler hit three three-pointers and led the scoring with 17 points. Wulff sank two shots from three-point range and finished with 12 points.
The CIF Southern Section boys' basketball playoff pairings will be announced Sunday. Playoff games begin Wednesday. As a league champion, the Breakers, ranked No. 10 in CIF Southern Section Division 4-AA, will play host to a Division first-round game at 7 p.m.
"Our division is real tough," Fleming said. "For the playoffs, I'd say it's the second-best division in the state, and certainly the second-best in the Southern Section. Right now, we're ranked 10th so hopefully, we'll keep that ranking, or move up, going into the pairings on Sunday.
"Most divisions have one, two, three teams that a team needs to go through, to make it all the way. In our division (4-AA), I think there is eight or nine teams, that can win the whole thing. I feel that there isn't anybody, on any given night, that we can't play with."