Brent Lofton, the senior forward who has been the headliner at El Camino Real High this season, stepped to the fore again in the final minutes Wednesday as the Conquistadores held off Jefferson, 67-63, in a City Section 3-A Division quarterfinal playoff at El Camino Real.
This time, however, it was a pair of lesser-known teammates who kept El Camino Real in position to advance to a semifinal game Friday against Fremont, a 58-51 winner over University.
Jason Steele (23 points) and Ken Findley (10) combined for 20 points in the first half--when Lofton was limited to eight--as the Conquistadores took a commanding 39-25 lead. For good measure, Steele made two free throws with six seconds left to give El Camino Real its final margin of victory.
Lofton, who scored seven of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, converted a three-point play off an assist from Jason Farrell with 1:22 left to give El Camino Real (11-8) a 61-57 lead. Lofton added two free throws with 45 seconds left to increase the Conquistadore lead to 65-60.
Nigel Brooks of Jefferson made a three-point basket to trim the margin to 65-63. El Camino Real's Charlie Crow was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 22 seconds left, but Brooks missed a three-point attempt that would have given Jefferson the lead. After Brooks' miss, Steele was fouled and converted both free throws.
Said Lofton: "My shots just weren't falling in the first half. But I felt like I had to take charge in the fourth quarter."
"This was a big game for us," Steele added. "They thought they were going to be able to intimidate us, but we surprised them. We didn't back down."
Steele's refusal to back down almost cost El Camino Real dearly in the third quarter.
With Jefferson (13-9) trailing, 41-35, Steele fouled Marlon Dominguez on an attempted shot, an altercation between the two ensued and Steele was charged with a technical foul.
Dominguez, who scored 15 of his game-high 27 points in the period, proceeded to make four consecutive free throws to trim the deficit to 41-39 with 2:28 remaining in the quarter. Dominguez's free throws ended a 14-0 Jefferson run that all but erased a 41-25 El Camino Real lead.
"We were tough mentally as a team tonight," El Camino Real Coach Mike McNulty said. "We could have folded right then, but we hung in there and came back."