The three-point shot helped Trabuco Hills wipe out a 10-point deficit and then some accurate free-throw shooting down the stretch sealed a 60-57 victory over Morningside in the Southern California Regional Division III boys’ championship Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The comeback puts Trabuco Hills (25-6) into the State championship game against Central Valley Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in only its fourth year of existence.
Trabuco Hills trailed, 51-41, with 5:35 remaining and its most potent weapon, the three-point shot, was noticeably absent. The Mustangs had made only one of eight three-point attempts at that point and the prospects of a rally seemed remote.
“It got to the point where Randy Kriech came to the bench and asked, ‘Do I shoot it?’ ” said Rainer Wulf, Trabuco Hills coach. “I told him, ‘Hell, yes, that’s what got us here.’ It was just a matter of time before we hit a couple.”
The right time came with 3:21 remaining and Morningside leading, 51-43. Chad Poulos ended the drought from behind the 19-foot, 9-inch line with a three-pointer that cut Morningside’s lead to four points, and teammate Luis Arenado hit another three-pointer 10 seconds later to trim the lead to 51-50.
It was at this point that the game turned into a free-throw shooting contest. Center Rick Swanwick made six straight foul shots down the stretch and then teammate Tim Manning sealed the victory with two free throws with 20 seconds remaining.
Swanwick, contained most of the game by Morningside’s tall, quick and physical front line, scored 13 of Trabuco Hills’ 21 points in the fourth quarter. He led all scorers with 27 points and had 11 rebounds.
“We hit the free throws and hit the three-point shots which got us here,” Wulf said. “We needed those three-pointers desperately. They were up by seven points, and 10 seconds later, they were only up by a point. Those shots were momentum breakers.”
Morningside (25-6) appeared ticketed for Oakland after gaining an at-large berth in the regionals. The Monarchs shook off a poor first quarter and took control by pressuring Trabuco Hills’ ballhandlers into committing 17 turnovers through three quarters.
Morningside held a 29-28 lead at halftime and lost the lead only once heading into the last quarter; Swanwick made a three-point play with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter to briefly put the Mustangs ahead, 37-35.
Trabuco Hills made only seven of 19 shots in the second and third quarters and got caught up in the Monarchs’ up-tempo game. Trabuco Hills was rattled, but it battled back with a four-guard lineup.
“We ran the ball down their throat in the first quarter and then got rattled,” Wulf said. “That’s the first time that’s happened all year.”
Swanwick, who took only six shots in the second and third quarters, had a different version of the middle quarters when the Mustangs nearly self-destructed.
“Every time you turned around, there was one of them in your face,” he said. “They were one of the bigger teams we’ve played this season, and definitely the quickest team we’ve played.”
Swanwick was a force in the final quarter. The 6-foot-10 center scored on a follow shot with 2:25 remaining to trim Morningside’s lead to 55-54, and then his free throws with 1:44 left moved the Mustangs ahead, 56-55.
Morningside took its last lead, 57-56, on two free throws by Arthur Savage and then Swanwick was fouled again with 42 seconds left going for a rebound after Kriech and Poulos had missed three-point shots.
Swanwick made both free throws to give Trabuco Hills the lead for good, 58-57, and when Morningside guard Ken Jones dribbled the ball off his foot, the Mustangs could make reservations for Oakland.
Ron Randle, Morningside co-coach, said his team relaxed a little with a 10-point lead and it ultimately cost the Monarchs a shot at the state title.
“We felt comfortable with a 10-point lead, but you can’t relax in this game,” he said. “During those two three-pointers, we were a step or two away from the shooter . . . just a little relaxed and it hurt.
“We pressured them for 32 minutes, but they got a second wind. They started getting that second effort for loose balls and we let up.”
Wulf was asked what he told his team during a timeout while trailing, 51-41, in the fourth quarter.
“There was no strategy involved,” he said. “I told them to just start doing some of the little things that got us here or the season would be over.”
But thanks to the three-point shot, the season will extend another week for Trabuco Hills.