Forward Tracy Murray of Glendora High remembers how he and his teammates felt after losing to San Bernardino in the CIF Southern Section 4-AA finals two weeks ago.
“Everybody was real down,” the 6-8 prep All-American senior said. “We weren’t very happy the next day.”
Fortunately for the Tartans, Glendora received a second chance when it was selected for an at-large berth in the state Division II playoffs.
“We were nervous before the phone call came because we thought we wouldn’t make it,” Murray said. “After we found out, it was like a new life. Everyone was starting all over again and there was a fire in everyone’s eyes.”
Since receiving the word, the Tartans have certainly made the most of their opportunity.
Glendora defeated Central Section champion Bakersfield Foothill, Southern Section 4-AA winner San Bernardino and Southern Section 4-A champion Compton Dominguez in the Southern California regionals last week to reach the state Division II finals.
The Tartans (31-2), playing in their first state tournament, will face Menlo Atherton (31-4) in the championship game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. It will be the second straight appearance in the state Division II final for Atherton, which suffered a 66-61 loss to Foothill in the title game last season. Atherton advanced to the title game with an 85-71 victory over Danville San Ramon in the Northern California final.
Glendora Coach Mike LeDuc said he doesn’t know a lot about his opponent, although he added that Atherton has three starters from last season and plays an up-tempo offense.
But he was quick to add, “We’re going to worry about whatever we do best and try to practice our game.”
The game for the Tartans has revolved around Murray, who has averaged a remarkable 45 points and 14 rebounds to shatter many of the Southern Section career and single-season scoring records. Among his records, Murray has the most points in a season, the highest average in a season and is the all-time leader in points.
While LeDuc didn’t downplay Murray’s importance, he said there are other players who have played a critical role in the success of the Tartans.
“Obviously we’re not going to win without Tracy, but we’re also not going to win without the other guys, too,” he said.
Two of the other leaders have been center Alan Thompson, a 6-6 senior, and forward J. J. O’Laughlin, a 6-3 junior. Both average about nine points.
However, aside from Murray, LeDuc characterizes his team as largely a collection of overachievers.
“I know a lot of people probably expected us to have a great team because of Tracy Murray,” LeDuc said. “But we didn’t look at it that way. We’ve really overachieved our goals. We were hoping to get past the quarterfinals (of the CIF 4-AA playoffs) and win 20 to 25 games. We thought that would’ve been a great year for this group.”
Added Murray: “We didn’t expect at all to get to the state championship. We set a long-term goal to get to the CIF championship game. But when we set goals in the summer no one really thought about state. We didn’t even think of the CIF (title). We just put that as a long-term goal.”
While much of the attention of Glendora opponents has focused on Murray’s offensive talents, LeDuc said defense has also played an integral factor in his team’s success. In state tournament play, the Tartans have allowed an average of only 53 points.
“Our defense has been just fantastic for us except for maybe the CIF finals (against San Bernardino),” he said. “It’s really come through for us.”
After losing to San Bernardino, 72-69, Murray said the Tartans were looking forward to a rematch in the regional semifinals. But first Glendora had to get past Foothill, 72-56, in a game in which Murray was held to a season-low 26 points.
LeDuc said a change of strategy may have helped his team in its 52-46 win over San Bernardino in the semifinals.
“We played a much more up-tempo game but the score just doesn’t reflect that,” he said. “Both teams just played very well defensively. We just went into the second game (against San Bernardino) with a less passive attitude. We were playing to win.”
Murray and his teammates may have saved their most impressive performance for the last six minutes of the regional title game against Dominguez. It did not appear promising for the Tartans when they fell behind, 51-40, early in the fourth quarter.
“We were playing so poorly it was difficult to feel confident that we could come back,” LeDuc said. “But I had a feeling if we played to our ability we could come back.”
The coach said it was a combination of Murray, who scored 19 of his game-high 37 points in the final 6:39, and strong defense that brought the Tartans a 61-57 victory.
“That was the best I’ve ever seen us play defense in the last six minutes against Dominguez,” Murray said.
As for his play down the stretch, Murray added, “At the time I felt I hadn’t played that well and J. J. had sparked everyone (with a basket), and I felt I needed to help. It was like in the last six minutes we just went up to another level (of play).”
LeDuc is hoping the Tartans can perform at that level for one more game.
“It’s all been so incredible and we’ve gotten a few breaks,” he said. “Maybe with a little luck we can get one more win.”
From Murray’s perspective, a state championship would be a fitting culmination to his brilliant high school career.
“I’ll treasure that, especially if we win, because I want a (championship) ring on my finger,” Murray said. “I’d rather score one point and win the state championship than score 75 points and lose.”