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Third time’s not the charm for Costa Mesa boys’ basketball in CIF Division 5AA final

Aiden Spallone (2) of Costa Mesa lays it up and in during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA final on Wednesday.
Aiden Spallone (2) of Costa Mesa lays it up and in after a fastbreak during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys’ basketball final on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa High School boys’ basketball coach Jesse Mercado stood outside his team’s locker room pacing back and forth just minutes after the final buzzer went off.

The first-year head coach had never thought he’d make it this far, but it still hurt to end on a devastating loss. He was emotional and anxious, which kept him outside while his assistant coaches spoke to his team.

As the team said their goodbyes, coaches and players consoled and congratulated him for the work he had done this season. A first-year head coach had taken his team to its first-ever CIF final.

“I wanted to do this for the boys,” Mercado said. “I inherited a great group of kids and they all bought in.”

Costa Mesa lost 64-55 to host Calvary Chapel on Wednesday in the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys’ basketball final. It was the third time the teams had met this year, with the Mustangs taking the loss in all three games.

Aiden Spallone (2) reacts as seconds tick off the clock late in the fourth quarter during the CIF Division 5AA final.
Aiden Spallone (2) reacts as seconds tick off the clock late in the fourth quarter during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys’ basketball championship game on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The first game we learned how to compete, the second we gave them our best shot, and this game we obviously competed at full capacity, but we just came up short at the end,” Mercado said.

Aiden Spallone had a game-high 17 points for Costa Mesa (15-7). Gio Quero added 11 points, and Nathan Schipper had eight points. Christian Dasca and Jordan Martin each scored six points.

Keshawn Johnson led the Eagles with 13 points, Ethan Hanning added nine points, and Daniel Yardley added eight points for Calvary Chapel (22-5).

“We beat ourselves with all the little mistakes we make,” Spallone said. “We couldn’t capitalize off the opportunities tonight.”

Costa Mesa's Christian Dasca (5) and Calvary Chapel's Keshawn Johnson (23) battle for a rebound.
Costa Mesa’s Christian Dasca (5) and Calvary Chapel’s Keshawn Johnson (23) battle for a rebound during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys’ basketball final on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa played fast the entire first half. The Mustangs relied on their speed to get to the rim, and the fastbreak worked for them almost every time. Costa Mesa took only one three-point attempt and three shots outside the key. The Mustangs also implemented a 3-2 zone defense, which kept the Eagles from getting easy baskets at the rim, but it allowed for open threes that fell in.

“We were able to maintain the offensive boards in the first half well, which is something we struggled with before,” Quero said.

The second half was a completely different story. The Mustangs were more passive at attacking the basket. The Eagles took advantage by slowing the game down to the pace they wanted. Costa Mesa struggled to create offense in a half-court setting, and the 10-point lead it once had quickly fell apart.

Calvary Chapel took a 52-47 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Mustangs made another run and took a 55-54 lead with 1:40 left in the game, but Yardley made a three-pointer to put the Eagles back in front on the next possession and Calvary Chapel shut the door from there.

Nathan Schipper (4) extends for a layup past the defense of Calvary Chapel's Tyler Peterson in the CIF Division 5AA final.
Nathan Schipper (4) extends for a layup past the defense of Calvary Chapel’s Tyler Peterson during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys’ basketball final on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We kept our focus and we kept fighting the entire way,” Calvary Chapel head coach Jon Hughes said. “The first half was tough for us, but we stuck to our game plan the whole way.”

The Mustangs faced obstacles all year, but it never stopped them from reaching their goals. Costa Mesa only had two weeks of practice before its first game, but the chemistry came together quickly. The team had bonded and their play on the court showed it.

“This is the best team that I’ve ever played with,” Spallone said. “These guys are my brothers, I’ve been playing basketball forever and there has never been a team like this. We love each other and we always had our backs out there.”

Costa Mesa's Christian Dasca (5) sinks a long basket during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys' basketball final.
Costa Mesa’s Christian Dasca (5) sinks a long basket during the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA boys’ basketball final on Wednesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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