The expectations were high when Ocean View High School's basketball team arrived in this farming community of 60,000 three days ago for the King Cotton Classic.
The Seahawks were seeded second in the eight-team tournament and were hoping to get an opportunity to play the nation's top-ranked team, Flint Hill Prep of Oakton, Va., in the championship game.
Instead, Ocean View will have to be content with playing against one of the nation's top prep players, J.R. Reid of Kempsville High in Virginia Beach, Va., at 3 p.m. (PST) today in the consolation championship game.
A crowd estimated at 1,000 saw the Seahawks rebound from a miserable performance in the opening round to soundly beat East Ascension of Gonzales, La., 70-59, Friday in the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Kempsville defeated Fayetteville, Ark., 50-39, Friday to set up today's game. Reid scored 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had 3 blocked shots.
Ocean View (10-2) had four starters in double figures and shot 51% from the floor in its best performance of the season so far. It was quite a turnaround from Thursday's 61-57 loss to host Pine Bluff.
"This was the team I've been waiting to play all season," said Jim Harris, Ocean View coach. "We had all the starters in the lineup for the first time from start to finish, and we looked good."
Indeed, the Seahawks finally resembled one of the top teams in Southern California and gained a little respect for West Coast basketball in the process.
The Seahawks held East Ascension scoreless for the first five minutes and kept their composure in the second quarter when the Spartans (12-4) scored 10 unanswered points to take a 16-13 lead.
Bookend forwards Ricky Butler and Desi Hazely controlled the boards, point guard Blaine DeBrouwer ran the offense smoothly and versatile Tony Panzica led the offense with 19 points.
But it was the play of 6-foot 8-inch center Mike Vogtmann that had Harris smiling afterward. Vogtmann started for the first time in two weeks and played about 22 minutes. He scored six points and had five rebounds.
The senior had been used sparingly after injuring an ankle and developing tendinitis. Vogtmann's presence gives the Seahawks an added dimension on both ends of the court.
"There are a lot of trees to shoot over with Mike in the lineup," Harris said, alluding to the Seahawks' 3-2 zone, which presented problems for the Spartans' All-America guard, Fess Irvin. "Offensively, you can't surround Desi and Ricky with a zone because Mike can shoot. Our five starters are pretty tough to defend."
East Ascension found out how true that is in the third quarter. Each Seahawk contributed in the period as Ocean View opened a 46-37 lead. DeBrouwer was very clever finding the open man, throwing two excellent passes to Panzica for easy baskets.
Butler, who has attracted a number of scouts and coaches here, regained his form with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Hazely, getting better every game, added 11 points and 6 rebounds.
Afterward, Harris pondered what might have been and looked forward to today's confrontation with Reid, a 6-10 senior whose amazing quickness and ballhandling abilities belie his size.
"After watching every game in the first round, I think the seeding was right," he said. "I think we are the No. 2 team here. It's too bad we didn't get a shot at Flint Hill.
"But we're really looking forward to playing against J.R. Reid. We came here to play the best teams and the best people. Reid is as good as any player I've ever seen in high school."
OCEAN VIEW (70)--Panzica 19, Hazeley 11, Butler 17, DeBrouwer 13, Morris 4, Vogtmann 6.
EAST ASCENSION (59)--Mackyeon 4, Delmore 20, Glover 2, Irvin 21, Andrews 12.