Participating in the playoffs is not a new experience for the Oceanside High School boys' basketball team. After all, the Pirates have reached the past four San Diego Section 2-A finals, winning three.
But what is a new experience for Oceanside is how it made the playoffs.
In the past, Oceanside qualified as either the Avocado League champion, or at least the league's runner-up. This year, Oceanside lost its final four league games to finish tied for third.
But thanks to the section's new format that allows every team willing to take part into this year's playoffs, the defending 2-A champions hosted El Capitan, the fifth-place team in the Grossmont League, in a Division II first-round game Tuesday.
The format may have been new, but the result for Oceanside was the same.
The Pirates nearly squandered a 14-point lead with a minute left in the game before making three free throws in the final 30 seconds to clinch a 60-54 victory.
"To me (the playoff game) was exactly the same," said Don Montamble, Oceanside's coach. "I woke up with butterflies. We had a team dinner before the game and we watched 'Hoosiers' for a little entertainment."
Oceanside (13-11) advanced to play at fourth-seeded Kearny (21-4) Thursday in a second-round game. El Capitan finished at 6-18.
Oceanside dominated the game after the first quarter. El Capitan's Jason Berkshire scored the first five points of the game, and Oceanside trailed, 17-16, at the end of the period after the Pirates' Anthony Morrow hit a three-point shot at the buzzer.
Oceanside's defense shut down El Capitan in the second quarter, holding the Vaqueros to just five points. In fact, just two players accounted for all of El Capitan's scoring until 1:31 remained in the third quarter. The Pirates outscored El Capitan, 11-5, to take a 27-22 lead; Berkshire had seven points at the half and forward Jeremy McGarity had 15.
Oceanside looked as if it would bury El Capitan early in the fourth quarter. After taking a 39-30 lead through three quarters, Oceanside scored the first eight points of the fourth period to take its biggest lead, 47-30.
The Pirates led, 57-43, on two free throws by Morrow with 1:13 remaining, and both coaches put in the reserves. The move nearly backfired for Montamble when El Capitan scored 10 points in the next 30 seconds.
"(Our reserves) just weren't mentally ready to come in and play," Montamble said. "A team that has no guts doesn't come back like that. Their kids were just going after it."
El Capitan was able to stay in the game by making eight three-point shots, including two in the final 1:30. McGarity stole the ball and scored to cut Oceanside's lead to 57-50 with 39 seconds to go. El Capitan then made 3 of 4 free throws to pull within 57-53 with 29 seconds remaining.
But Oceanside reserve Dwayne Wilson hit both ends of a one-and-one with 21 seconds to go, and Sibian Fuimaono made a free throw with 12 seconds left to secure the victory.
McGarity led all scorers with 22 points, including five three-point shots. Forward Alvin McGee had 16 points, and center Donald Barner added 15 for Oceanside.