IRVINE — With the Pacific Coast League title on the line, the Corona del Mar High boys' basketball team had just 6.5 seconds to work with. Coach Ryan Schachter and his top assistant, Jason Simco, looked at each other, and Simco called one last play.
The Sea Kings trailed by one at defending league champion Northwood on Thursday. They needed to make one more shot to close out league on top. The coaches didn't call a timeout before the inbound near midcourt, figuring it might tip off Northwood Coach Tim O'Brien.
The play CdM went with is the one O'Brien is legendary for running, the backdoor lob. Twenty-four years ago, Simco, as a 7-year-old, used to collect balls for O'Brien when O'Brien coached at Estancia.
The former ball boy brought the backdoor lob to CdM seven seasons ago, when he joined Schachter's staff. The play finally made a difference for CdM.
Simco and Schachter had never seen their team execute the backdoor lob the way it did on Thursday, with so much at stake, in such dramatic fashion.
Credit goes to three players, Tyler Lopp, Blake Flamson and Kevin Fults. Those three made it possible for the Sea Kings to edge Northwood, 43-42, and finish first in league for the first time in three seasons.
Lopp is the one who set the killer back screen to free Fults up from near the three-point line. Flamson inbounded the ball over a 6-foot-6 defender, throwing a precise pass to Fults in midair. Near the right block, Fults softly converted a layup with five seconds left.
The league finale wasn't over. Fults made one more play. He quickly came away with a steal after Northwood inbounded the ball, ensuring CdM (19-6, 8-2 in league) shared the league title with Woodbridge (19-8, 8-2).
The Sea Kings, ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA poll, hold the head-to-head edge against Woodbridge, having swept the two-game series. They most likely will earn one of the top four seeds in the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs on Sunday, when the section releases the postseason pairings.
"It's got to be one of the best game-winners we've had," said Schachter, who has won five league titles during his eight seasons in charge of CdM. "To win the game on a lob play that we practice, you're in desperation mode, that's awesome."
Thirteen seconds before Fults' game-winner, Zach Pierce seemed to put the dagger in CdM. The senior hit a three-pointer to put No. 10 Northwood ahead, 42-41.
Schachter didn't want to call a timeout right after Pierce knocked down his fourth three-pointer in the second half, giving him 17 points. Schachter hoped his team would bring the ball up past half court, to set up one final play from midcourt.
Instead, CdM called a timeout. Fults inbounded the ball underneath the basket, giving it to Lopp, who then gave the ball to Flamson. Northwood fouled Flamson.
With 6.5 seconds to go, Schachter and Simco ordered Flamson to inbound the ball near midcourt.
"I was confused," said Flamson, who expected a timeout as CdM had two remaining. "I was like, 'What are we doing? What are we doing?' They just said, 'Just take it out,' and then I realized what it was."
The backdoor play was on and the Sea Kings pulled it off, to the surprise of Pierce. He was the player guarding Fults, before Lopp picked him from behind.
Looking back, Pierce said he probably should have held Fults, because the Timberwolves (16-10, 7-3) had a foul to give.
Pierce and teammate Jake Ludwick (10 points) were the only two players in double figures. The Sea Kings' leading scorers were Flamson and Ryan Stone, who finished with eight points apiece. Robby Bracho chipped in seven points in the second half for CdM, while Ryan Moss added six points off the bench, all in the second quarter, and Fults and Lopp had four points.
While Fults and Lopp didn't start, the two were on the court during crunch time. They were the ones who recorded CdM's final two baskets, Lopp's layup coming with 3:17 left to play.
The next layup proved to be the difference, ending the Sea Kings' three-game losing streak to Northwood and Northwood's league title hopes.
"That's our play," Pierce said of the backdoor lob CdM ran to beat the Timberwolves. "[O'Brien] just said we have to close out games."
Pacific Coast League
Corona del Mar 43, Northwood 42
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CdM 14 – 12 – 9 – 8 — 43
Northwood 8 – 9 – 15 – 10 — 42
CdM – Flamson 8, Stone 8, Bracho 7, Moss 6, Lopp 4, Fults 4, Johnston 4, St. Geme 2.
3-pt. goals – Flamson 1, Bracho 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
NW – Pierce 17, Ludwick 10, Linsky 8, Prokop 6, Miles 1.
3-pt. goals – Pierce 5, Ludwick 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.