By turning in one of the most successful regular-season performances in program history, the Laguna Beach High boys’ basketball team was justly rewarded by the Southern Section office when the CIF playoff pairings were revealed Sunday.
Laguna, which won its final three regular season games to claim the Orange Coast League championship, is seeded fifth in the Division IIIA playoffs. The Breakers were granted a first-round bye and begin the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they host Elsinore in a second-round game.
Elsinore defeated San Antonio League champion Rowland on the Raiders’ home court, 68-59, in a first-round game Wednesday.
The Tigers improved to 14-13 overall and had made the playoffs by receiving an at-large berth out of the Sunbelt League.
“The kids are excited to get started,” said Laguna Coach Bret Fleming who had the opportunity to scout the Elsinore-Rowland game Wednesday. “We’ll see if we can make a little noise in the third part of the season.”
Laguna reeled off a school-record 23 wins during the regular season, won the school’s first league title in nine years, is 23-5 overall and will host only the fourth home playoff game since 1999.
The No. 5 seed is the school’s highest since the 1999 playoffs when Laguna entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed.
This year, the Breakers were considered the favorite to win the Orange Coast League and did just that, although Fleming said his team learned a lesson along the way.
He’s looking for the Breakers to apply it to the postseason.
“Hopefully, we have learned a good lesson from league,” he said. “We went into league play as the favorite but lost that first game to a Costa Mesa team that we didn’t think we would lose to. It just goes to show you that if you don’t come prepared to play on any given night and play hard, you can be beat.”
The Breakers have especially shown their depth and determination in the latter-part of the regular season, and several players — Bob Monroe, Brian Delino, Charley Bowman, Marcus Hairston, Nathan Pickett and Chris Hyden — stepped up their game when injuries and illness permeated the team.
Leading scorer Cheyne Martin first suffered a broken finger (ring finger) on his left hand during a Dec. 19 win over Dana Hills. In a Jan. 15 win over Glendora, the senior shooting guard broke his right wrist and has not played since.
The Breakers, though, went on to win six of their final seven games without him.
On Feb. 5, Laguna lost another key component when leading rebounder Ryan Lawler broke his foot. In a league title-clinching win over Calvary Chapel on Feb. 7, guard Ian Butters suffered a hip pointer-like injury.
“We kind of picked a bad part of the season to be sick and injured but I don’t have any double in this team,” Fleming said. “These players have shown me what they are capable of.”
Fleming says that Butters is “probably” for tonight’s game. Lawler won’t play the rest of the season but Martin, who has been sick in the past week, returned to practice this week and is ready to play tonight.
“Cheyne’s return gives us a big lift, both confidence-wise and emotionally,” Fleming said.
Martin’s return also brings with it a 29 points per game scoring average.
“My wrist isn’t 100-percent and I haven’t played in nearly a month, but I’m ready to get back in the game,” said Martin, who noted that his wrist will be taped and braced. “It’s been really tough to have to watch from the bench but I feel really good about this team. Bob Monroe, Brian (Delino) and everyone has really stepped up. I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished. I’m just glad to be able to contribute again.”
A Laguna victory tonight would move the Breakers on to Tuesday’s quarterfinals where they could face a potential date with Corona del Mar. The fourth-seeded Sea Kings host Palm Springs tonight.