Don MacLean stood in the hallway of the Simi Valley lockeroom and, for a moment couldn't find the right words.
"I feel real bad for the seniors," he finally said. "I really wanted to win it for those guys."
Simi Valley, a team that was supposed to be a title contender in the future, came up a couple of key rebounds short, losing to Muir, 58-55, in the Southern Section 4-A title game Saturday night at the Sports Arena.
Muir (28-2) out-rebounded the Pioneers, 39-24, including an 11-4 margain in the fourth quarter. The Pioneers made 64% of their field-goal attempts to the Mustangs' 48%.
"We were concerned about their height advantage," said Simi Valley Coach Bob Hawking. "It certainly proved to be important at the end of the game."
The Pioneers had additional problems rebounding late in the game because forward Shawn DeLaittre, the team's second-best rebounder, spent most of the second half in foul trouble before fouling out with 3:43 left.
DeLaittre, who was averaging 15 points and nine rebounds, exited with the scored tied at 49. He had only eight points and three rebounds.
"He's been a clutch player for us all year," Hawking said of the 6-4 sophomore forward. "We could have used him out there at the end."
That left MacLean, at 6-8, the Pioneer only starter taller than 6-4, left to battle a Muir front line of 6-8 Stacey Augmon, 6-7 Wayne Womack and 6-7 Kirk Wagner.
"They seemed to be coming at me from everywhere," MacLean said.
Muir ran off most of the game's final minute using an unusal clock-killing tactic.
The Mustangs simply missed their free throws--they made two of nine in the last 59 seconds--and then grabbed the rebound, forcing Simi Valley to foul again.
Doing most of the damage was Augmon, who led the Mustangs with 15 points and nine rebounds despite a severe cold.
Wagner, a junior reserve, scored 12 points, all in the second half.
"He's done that all season," said Muir Coach Mike O'Connor. "He's given us the spark off the bench when we needed it."
Wagner also had seven rebounds. Womack, a sophomore, had 11 points and six rebounds.
The game was close throughout and tied 13 times, including most of the third quarter.
Simi Valley (27-3) led by two starting the fourth period, but lost the lead for good when Augmon's 15-footer and free throw put the Mustangs up, 54-51, with two minutes left.
MacLean, a sophomore, led all scorers with 30, but he had only four in the fourth quarter. He was the only Simi Valley player in double figures.
"Don had a good ballgame, but we just didn't get it from the rest of the guys," Hawking said. "It takes more than one guy to win a championship."
Simi Valley can take some consolation in a bright future, however.
MacLean and DeLaittre, the team leaders in scoring and rebounding, have two years left. Travis Bice, who played well in a reserve role and scored eight, also will be back. And then there are the players who will be added off Marmonte League champion junior varsity and sophomore teams.
"We have a bright future," Hawking said. "That doesn't help us much right now, but I suspect that the loss will make us better down the road for the guys coming back. If we can be hungrier, we will."
For Muir, winning the boys title should take some of the sting away from the upset its highly regarded girls suffered Friday night.
The Mustang girls, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, were defeated by Lynwood, 54-52, in double overtime.