His team is made up mostly of understudies, players thrown into the production late last summer after some of the stars went off in search of meatier roles. And Saturday night, after Servite High School's cast of late replacements reached the Southern Section playoffs, it was Coach Larry Walker who had all his lines well rehearsed.
The Friars became the third-place representative from the Angelus League with a 46-37 win over St. Paul in front of a sparse crowd of 700 in a special playoff game at Cypress College. Afterward, Walker had all the right words to summarize a season that began with a group of junior varsity players moving up to varsity to replace seven players who--for a variety of reasons--transferred to other schools.
With players such as Mitch Brown and Jamie Cardriche, both starters for Servite last year, playing at St. Anthony in Long Beach and Robbie Burrer--another potential starter--moving to Troy, this year looked to be one of major rebuilding for Walker. And he didn't appear to have much of a foundation.
But the Friars finished the league season tied for third place with St. Paul at 5-5, and Saturday night's victory put them into the Big Five playoffs. Walker was understandably pleased.
"No one expected these guys to win a game, and we won 10 and made the playoffs," he said with a smile. "I should be Coach of the Year.
"I'm going to get a picture of this team blown up and put it somewhere in our gym where everyone can see it. Other teams that are playing for league championships can look at it and say, 'Man, we didn't have it as tough as those guys.' When you're winning all the time, everything is easy. But it hasn't been easy for these guys."
Beating St. Paul, a team the Friars split with in the regular season, certainly wasn't easy. The teams were tied at 29-29 with 5:11 to play before Servite went on a 13-2 spurt that would bring an end to the Swordsmen's season. Matt Honikel, who finished with a game-high 20 points, scored two straight baskets from close range and Bob Coady had four free throws to lead the outburst.
The Swordsmen managed to recover from an early slump that saw them go 6:30 without scoring. A 14-13 lead turned into a 22-14 deficit, and with Servite spreading its offense, the comeback was made difficult.
"I expected them to be deliberate," St. Paul Coach Mike Dinnenn said. "It's what we intended to do if we would have gotten the lead. We just couldn't get over the hump."
St. Paul outscored Servite, 10-5, over the last three minutes of the third quarter to enter the final period trailing, 29-27. The Friars went to their delay game after controlling the fourth-quarter tip and ran 1 1/2 minutes off the clock before St. Paul guard John Scott stole the ball and took it the length of the court for a layup that tied it at 29-29 with 5:24 to play.
Servite answered with a 15-foot bank shot by Coady, an offensive rebound and basket by Tony Smalley, and Honikel's two baskets inside.
All that was left was for the understudies to take a bow.
ST. PAUL (37)--Adamsen 2, Ayala 13, Scott 8, Willig 4, Neely 4, Willis 4, Palacios 2.
SERVITE (46)--Honikel 20, Coady 8, Osgood 2, Smalley 8, Hornung 7, O'Donnell 1.