LAGUNA BEACH — The last time the Costa Mesa High boys' basketball team beat Laguna Beach, Mike Molina played in the game. Seven seasons later, he is back with the Mustangs and facing the Breakers.
He no longer takes shots for the team. He now calls the shots as Costa Mesa's coach.
As a 23-year-old, Molina has made a lot of strides for a first-year coach. His alma mater just cannot seem to defeat the Breakers, even with him in charge of Costa Mesa.
The Mustangs traveled to Laguna Beach and suffered their worst setback of the season, losing the Orange Coast League game, 81-53, on Wednesday. For the 19th straight time, the Breakers have knocked off Costa Mesa, 16 in league play and three times in tournament action.
You have to go back to the 2006-07 season, Molina's sophomore season, for the only time Costa Mesa has topped Laguna Beach in the Orange Coast League.
"I remember it pretty clearly," Molina said, before going into what it took for the Mustangs to pull off a 59-58 victory at home against Laguna Beach on Jan. 12, 2007. "We did a great job staying together and guys made big plays. Defensively, we locked down.
"It's going to take an extreme amount of effort and you have to play your biggest game of the year, if you're going to be able to beat [the Breakers], because they're extremely good."
The Breakers took a huge step in moving closer to winning the Orange Coast League for an eighth straight time. They wrapped up the first part of league 5-0, making sure they remained alone in first.
Costa Mesa needed to win at Laguna Beach (16-5 overall) to move into a first-place tie. Now, the Mustangs (15-7, 3-2 in league) will have to win out and have Laguna Beach, ranked No. 9 in the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA, lose twice for a shot to share the league crown.
With the way the Breakers are playing, that scenario is unlikely. They are rolling in league, having reeled off a school-record 18 league wins in a row. Laguna Beach is poised to repeat as the undefeated league champion.
This wasn't the first time Costa Mesa ran into the Breakers this season. They met in the semifinals of the Godinez tournament in December and Laguna Beach prevailed, 67-51.
In the second meeting, the Breakers went to their post players again.
Josh Adams carried the load for Laguna Beach in the first half, producing 15 of his 19 points. With Adams, a 6-foot-4 senior, in foul trouble in the second half, the Breakers went to Noah Blanton.
Blanton took over in the second half, scoring 17 points to finish with a game-high 25. The 6-6 senior grabbed 10 rebounds, half on the offensive side.
Despite seeing Blanton and Adams hurt Costa Mesa for a second time, the Mustangs fought their way back into the game late in the third quarter. They went on a 6-0 run, cutting the deficit to 51-43. Kyle Hefner made a couple of nice passes to Mason Tufuga (12 points) and Oronde Crenshaw (nine points) and they converted layups.
Then with 33 seconds left in the third quarter, while at midcourt, a referee called Costa Mesa guard Daniel Azurin for a hand-check foul. Azurin disagreed and the ref called a technical foul and Azurin fouled out. Alec Wulff, who had 14 points, only converted one of the two free throws for Laguna Beach, but it ended the Mustangs' momentum.
"It was a backbreaker," said Molina, whose team made nine of 10 shots in the third quarter. "I thought we did a great job of coming back and battling [in the third quarter]. We cut it to eight. We had that silly technical foul call. We got to do a better job of not worrying about what the refs do. We can't let them take us out of our game. There are going to be some nights when certain refs call it closer than others and some of them call it a little looser. We got to be able to adjust."
At the start of the fourth quarter, Costa Mesa fell apart. The Breakers scored the quarter's first 10 points and never looked back. They were on their way to thumping the Mustangs again.
Before Molina spoke to his team afterward, Laguna Beach Coach Bret Fleming told Molina to keep his head up. Fleming coached against Molina when Molina played for the Mustangs and he likes what he sees from the Mustangs under Molina.
"Mike was one of those kids when he was playing that I was like always shaking his hand afterward, telling him how proud I was of how hard he plays, and he's the same way as a coach," Fleming said. "He works his butt off. You can just see the improvement in their kids and how much work he's putting in."
Orange Coast League
Laguna Beach 81, Costa Mesa 53
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Mesa 13 – 12 – 18 – 10 — 53
Laguna 20 – 17 – 15 – 29 — 81
CM – Comer 13, Tufuga 12, Crenshaw 9, Mo 8, Hefner 7, Azurin 2, Friedmann 2.
3-pt. goals – Mo 2, Comer 1.
Fouled out – Azurin.
Technicals – Azurin.
LB – Blanton 25, Adams 19, A. Wulff 14, Jones 9, Ludloff 8, Brown 3, Richardson 3.
3-pt. goals – A. Wulff 2, Jones 1, Blanton 1, Brown 1, Richardson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.