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Costa Mesa boys’ basketball makes first CIF final

The Costa Mesa High School boys' basketball team celebrates after beating Valley Village Valley Torah on Friday.
The Costa Mesa High School boys’ basketball team celebrates after beating Valley Village Valley Torah 60-58 in a CIF Southern Section Division 5AA playoff semifinal game on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Costa Mesa High School boys’ basketball team started off the season with nonleague losses against Aliso Niguel, Fairmont, Villa Park and JSerra.

When March ended, the Mustangs were 0-4. First-year coach Jesse Mercado would have them run during practice, more than he had before.

Mercado, who had been assistant coach for 18 years before taking his first head coaching job, had to show the Mustangs that this was not punishment.

Instead, it was preparation.

Now Costa Mesa has made a longer playoff run than ever before.

The Mustangs closed strong Friday and upset No. 2-seeded Valley View Valley Torah 60-58 in a CIF Southern Section Division 5AA playoff semifinal game at Costa Mesa High.

Costa Mesa's head coach Jesse Mercado joins in on the celebration with his team after beating Valley Village Valley Torah.
Costa Mesa’s head coach Jesse Mercado joins in on the celebration with his team after beating Valley Village Valley Torah.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa (15-8) advanced to its first CIF title game in program history. The Mustangs will play on the road Wednesday against the winner of Friday night’s other semifinal between top-seeded Calvary Chapel and No. 4-seeded Canoga Park AGBU.

“This has obviously been one of the best experiences of my life,” said Costa Mesa junior guard Aiden Spallone, who scored a game-high 22 points on Friday. “This feels great. We’ve just really come together over this year after a rough start.”

Sophomore point guard Christian Dasca had 15 points and eight assists for Mesa, which also got a big boost in the fourth quarter from junior point guard Nathan Shipper.

Shipper scored 10 of his 11 points in the final quarter, including a pair of big three-pointers.

“People don’t take him as being a real point guard because he comes off the bench, but he could start for a lot of teams in Orange County,” Mercado said. “I think having two point guards on the floor toward the end gave them a little trouble, matchup-wise.”

Senior co-captains Gio Quero and Blake Wolf each scored seven points for the Mustangs, who have now upset the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the bracket to reach the final.

Costa Mesa's Nathan Shipper scrambles for a ball against Valley Torah's David Paz during Friday's semifinal game.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa trailed by as many as eight points in the third quarter against Heritage League co-champion Valley Torah (13-2), but that was nothing new. Mercado said the Mustangs have trailed in the second half of each of their four playoff games so far.

The Mustangs also trailed much later. Valley Torah’s Noam Mayouhas made a three-pointer with 1:45 left in the game, giving the visitors a 58-55 lead.

Dasca hit one of two free throws, but Spallone rebounded the missed second freebie. That resulted in a layup for Shipper, tying the score at 58-58.

Dasca made a jumper with a minute left, providing the game’s final points. Valley Torah had four shots in the final 10 seconds to either tie or take the lead, but all missed the mark.

“My biggest thing was the heart,” Mercado said. “We showed a lot of heart and made big plays when we needed to.”

Costa Mesa's Gio Quero goes up for a rebound against Valley Village Valley Torah's Elliott Roessler.
Costa Mesa’s Gio Quero goes up for a rebound against Valley Village Valley Torah’s Elliott Roessler.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

If Costa Mesa plays Calvary Chapel in the final, it would be the teams’ third meeting of the season. Calvary Chapel won both of the previous Orange Coast League games, 63-47 on April 27 and 67-61 on May 13.

However, as Wolf noted, it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row.

The Mustangs hope to extend their run at least one more game to a CIF title.

“We run so much that in the second half, teams start breaking down,” Wolf said. “That’s when we’re in our prime. We just keep going, and we’re an unstoppable force. When these guys start breaking down, they get a little sloppy and their shots are a little short, we just take full advantage of it.”

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CIF Southern Section Division 5AA Playoffs

Semifinal

Costa Mesa 60, Valley Torah 58

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Valley Torah 22 – 11 – 15 – 10 — 58

Costa Mesa 16 – 15 – 18 – 11 — 60

VT – Y. Dan 15, Paz 13, Mayouhas 11, Yehezkel 10, B. Dan 7, Bitton 2.

3-pt. goals – Y. Dan 1, Mayouhas 1, B. Dan 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

CM – Spallone 22, Dasca 13, Shipper 11, Quero 7, Wolf 7.

3-pt. goals – Shipper 2, Spallone 1, Wolf 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

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