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SOUTHERN SECTION BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS : 3-A Quarterfinals : CdM’s Defense Keys 60-59 Victory

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Times Staff Writer

Somewhere in the middle of the bleachers in the Orange Coast College gym Friday night, Jack Errion was having trouble suppressing a smile. The former Corona del Mar High School coach watched his old team win a playoff game the way it used to when he was on the bench, and he watched the man who sat next to him for 10 seasons orchestrate it.

Errion was among the 1,800 spectators who watched Corona del Mar advance to the final four of the Southern Section 3-A playoffs with a 60-59 victory over Etiwanda. The Sea Kings will meet top-seeded Rolling Hills, a 57-55 winner over Centennial, in Tuesday’s semifinals.

First-year Sea King Coach Paul Orris, the freshman coach at Corona del Mar for 16 seasons before being promoted after Errion retired last March, hasn’t made many changes. The Sea Kings still play defense with passion. They still play a deliberate style of offense that thrives on good perimeter shooting. It’s a formula that helped Errion’s Corona del Mar teams record a 199-60 record and win two 3-A championships, and it’s the one that helped Orris’ Sea Kings show Etiwanda the playoff exit.

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Senior forward Markus Muller-Stach--the guy with the Neiman Markus jump shot--led all scorers with 29 points, and defensive specialist Chris Burns held Etiwanda standout forward Barry Howard to just five points through three quarters to help Corona del Mar to its first trip to the semifinals since 1981, the year Errion won his last Southern Section title. Darren Morris added 18 points, including both ends of a one-and-one with 39 seconds to play.

The Sea Kings (24-6) overcame a five-point deficit in the final six minutes. Muller-Stach and Morris combined to make 4 of 5 free throws and score 15 points in that stretch. Burns, who spent most of the night shadowing Howard, hit two free throws with 17 seconds left to clinch the victory.

Burns has drawn the toughest defensive assignments for the Sea Kings this season. Against the Eagles, he was assigned to Howard, a flashy forward who averaged 17.5 points a game and will continue his career at the University of Washington. Howard had only three points in the first half, all free throws. His first field goal came at the 2:06 mark of the third quarter. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, when he scored 14 points, that Howard was a factor.

“That’s a tribute to Burns’ defense,” Orris said. “I’ve been saying all year long that he’s the best defensive player in the county. The only ones who seem to believe me are the people we’ve beaten.

“He was sick and didn’t practice the last two days. God, he just played his heart out.”

Etiwanda Coach Jess Evans said Howard was slowed somewhat by muscle cramps and an upset stomach, but agreed that his team had trouble getting him the the ball as much as he would have liked.

“They’re a good defensive team,” Evans said. “They lived up to their billing.”

That billing has followed the Sea Kings around for a while. It’s part of a long-standing formula that Orris helped Errion establish.

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