GARDEN GROVE — Entering his first game without much continuity in preseason practices, Newport Harbor High boys' basketball coach Bob Torribio said there is still much to learn about his Sailors.
But Torribio, in his first season as head coach though he has held the interim tag at various times in recent years, said there is little mystery that height will be one of the biggest advantages his team figures to exploit this season.
Such was the case in the Sailors' season-opening 66-53 nonleague victory at Rancho Alamitos on Friday, when 7-foot senior Kevin Rakestraw and 6-5 senior Brian Robbs were head and shoulders above anyone else on the floor.
Robbs amassed 22 points and 11 rebounds, while also showing off his perimeter skills by making three of his team's four three-pointers to help the Tars overcome the scrappy Vaqueros (1-3).
The mantis-like Rakestraw, who has signed to play volleyball at Stanford, had 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots in a breakout performance. He was six for 10 from the field, including a pair of alley-oop dunks, to stand out among struggling shooters for both teams.
The Sailors needed every bit of their length to counter a Rancho squad that featured no player taller than 6-3.
The Vaqueros (1-3) weren't exactly intimidated, however, as they kept pumping up shots in the paint and also slashing for layups despite Rakestraw's ominous presence in the lane.
With Robbs scoring 13 points in the second quarter, the visitors posted runs of 9-2 and 13-3 in the period. The latter surge closed the half, allowing the Sailors to turn a 10-8 deficit after one quarter into a 30-19 halftime cushion.
But there was nothing cushy about this one, as the Vaqueros rallied to tie the score at 36, then take a 38-37 led with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
But Nic Sargeant converted a steal into a breakaway layin about a minute later, then Rakestraw, who was five for six from the foul line, made both ends of a one-and-one to put the Tars up, 41-38, heading into the final eight minutes.
After both teams exchanged baskets, the Tars rolled off 11 straight points to establish command.
And when Sargeant drained a three-pointer with 1:43 left to create a 62-49 advantage, Torribio began emptying his bench.
"I give Rancho credit," Torribio said. "They play hard. I think they got almost every loose ball and they made [Rakestraw] work for every bucket he got. They did a good job of guarding us the way we think teams are going to guard us."
Despite the size disadvantage, Rancho earned a 40-38 rebounding advantage, though a handful of those were team rebounds awarded when Rakestraw blocks sailed out of bounds.
The hosts missed their first eight field-goal tries on their way to a 21-for-66 shooting performance (31.8%). They were slightly better from three-point range (six for 18) than inside the arc.
Newport Harbor, which forced 22 turnovers and committed 15, including only four after halftime, made 23 of 59 field-goal tries (39%).
"Our philosophy is, you've got to take your options," Torribio said in reference to feeding the ball to his big men. We've got [Rakestraw] inside and you've got to respect him."
Torribio also dispensed praise for Robb.
"He's a third-year varsity player and that's the kind of night we're going to need from him," Torribio said. "Some nights he'll score more than others, but those boards are going to have to be there every night for us to be successful."
Torribio said that success ratio should also increase when he gains the services of seniors Zach Wade and Derek Kula, still making the transition from football. Illness has also been depleting the practice turnout, Torribio said.
"We're learning on the fly," Torribio said. "We've had eight guys at practice, nine guys, 14 guys, then back to eight. We didn't shoot the ball well tonight [three of 18 for 16.7% from threedom], but we think we can shoot the ball."
Sargeant, a junior guard, finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while senior Robbie Rettig chipped in eight points, four assists and three steals.
Torribio also credited the play of sophomore Ben Bockrath (two points and pesky defense in a starting role) and freshman Caleb O'Neil (four points off the bench).
Newport Harbor 66,
Rancho Alamitos 53
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport 8 – 22 – 11 – 25 — 66
Rancho 10 – 9 – 19 – 15 — 53
NH – Robb 22, Rakestraw 17, Sargeant 11, Rettig 8, O'Neil 4, Bockrath 2, Balcazar 2.
3-pt. goals – Robb 2, Sargeant 1.
RA – Mullaney 12, Ramos 11, Lucatero 9, Wisdom 9, Berhanu 6, Alex 4, Davis 2.
3-pt. goals – Mullaney 3, Lucatero 2, Wisdom 1.
Fouled out – Wisdom.