NEWPORT COAST — Mark Loper looked at the clock, saw 32 seconds, lost his man at the top of the key and hit a runner in the lane, plus the foul. If he had hit his free throw, he would put the Sage Hill School boys’ basketball team up by one, with 30 seconds left to advance the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA quarterfinals.
He made the shot, leaving Buckley High of Sherman Oaks with the last possession to win or lose the game Friday night at Sage. A three-pointer from the corner by Buckley’s Nick De Bonfihls with 2.8 seconds to go, left the Lightning stunned.
After a last-ditch, last-second heave by Sage Hill’s Frank Shapiro came up short, the Griffins won the nail-biter, 45-43.
“I thought [Loper’s shot] was it,” Lightning Coach Jeff Beeler said. “I thought it was going to go down as another, ‘Mark Loper saves the day.’
“I am not looking forward to going into that locker room. There will probably be some tears flowing and I will probably be joining them. These guys played their butts off all season and we came within two points of the [quarterfinals].”
The Griffins started the game with a 17-9 lead . But, as the second quarter got underway, Sage Hill pushed aside the playoff nerves and made a slew of mid-range jumpers, closing in on Buckley, 27-26, going into halftime.
The third quarter was not as productive.
Neither team put together any big runs and only a combined total of 14 points was scored in the third quarter, making it 36-34, with Buckley in the lead going into the final quarter.
Kevin Schaefer came out firing for Sage Hill in the fourth, scoring four straight points and tying the game at 38-38, with 3:41 to play. But Schaefer’s momentum would not last. Twice in the last quarter, Schaefer stole the ball, but failed to make the transition basket, and did not put his team in complete control going into the final minutes.
“Kevin is probably the fastest guy in the [Academy League],” Beeler said. “And because of that, he sometimes plays out of control. The turnovers tonight maybe hurt us, but we would not be in this position without him. He lit up the other team last game and we are here because of him.”
Schaefer finished the game with eight points, two steals and an assist. Loper added an impressive 12 points, five steals and three rebounds. Connor Gaughan racked up 12 points and snagged six rebounds, while Shapiro was a workhorse for the Lightning, grabbing 10 rebounds and swiping four steals.
T.J. Danner came off the bench and started the initial push in the second quarter, being a big physical presence on both sides of the court, scoring four quick points off the bench and grabbing some key rebounds.
“You know, I’m thrilled about this season,” Beeler said. “These guys grew everyday at practice and I saw them get better and better, eventually coming together like a family.”
This was the first time in Sage Hill’s history it reached the second round of playoffs. The Lightning also set the record for wins in a season, finishing the season at 17-8.