Pacifica Christian boys’ basketball outlasts Orange Lutheran to advance to state championship game
Pacifica Christian Orange County High boys’ basketball sophomore EJ Spillman missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity in the closing seconds, leaving the door open on Tuesday night.
The Tritons were up by a single point in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division II championship game. Following the free throw miss, back-to-back timeouts were called with 4.6 seconds left, as host Orange Lutheran tried to set up a play to win the game.
When play resumed, Spillman helped slam that door shut.
He cleanly blocked Orange Lutheran sophomore Zion Paleo’s three-point attempt on the game’s final play, helping Pacifica Christian earn a dramatic 52-51 win in front of a capacity crowd estimated at 1,500 people.
Coach Jeff Berokoff’s Tritons (27-9) have advanced to their first CIF state championship game in just their seventh year as a program. Pacifica Christian will play Northern California champion Fresno San Joaquin Memorial (25-9) in the state Division II title game on Saturday at 4 p.m., at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
San Joaquin Memorial beat Fairfield Vanden 67-61 in overtime Tuesday in the Northern California final.
Pacifica Christian was the No. 9 seed in the regional playoffs after losing to La Mirada in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 2A playoffs. Clearly, they’ve relished their chance to keep the season going.
In winning the regional final on Tuesday night, the San Joaquin League champion Tritons beat No. 3-seeded Orange Lutheran (23-12) for the second time this season. Both victories came by a single point.
“It’s crazy,” Spillman said. “It shows everything that we worked for all year. The whole time I’m just thinking about all my guys, what we went through, how much work we put in to get here. We weren’t losing that game.
“We’re a smaller school, and everybody else counted us out. We came in as a No. 9 seed and we’re going to go win it.”
Sophomore Logan Stewart led the Tritons with 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench on Tuesday. Spillman, as well as junior Alex Stewart, scored 10 points each.
Balanced scoring has been the name of the game all season for Pacifica Christian.
“Our game plan is to get everybody involved,” Spillman said. “We feel like it’s more fun to play like that. Everything is together.”
Northwestern-bound senior standout Parker Strauss was quiet with four points, though he did stand out on defense with three steals — and by taking three charges on Orange Lutheran players.
“We trust each other a lot, obviously,” Strauss said. “Coach preaches that when the ball moves, good things happen. I mean, really it’s hard to guard us. Anybody can get it going.
“It’s great to see coach Berokoff’s emotion. I mean, he’s been building this thing for seven years. I bought into it, a lot of people have and a lot of people have reaped the benefits. He’s one hell of a coach, and this is one hell of a group.”
Pacifica Christian built a 38-25 lead midway through the third quarter on a put-back by Logan Stewart. But the Lancers clawed back. Three straight triples, one by junior Andrew Nagy and two from senior Javon Smith, brought Orange Lutheran within four points in just more than a minute’s time.
Orange Lutheran took a 50-48 lead with 2:50 left in the game on a three-pointer by senior Cannon Potter, who led the hosts with 15 points. But a nice pass from Spillman found Alex Stewart to tie the score.
After a free throw by Potter, Logan Stewart made the eventual game-winning basket for Pacifica Christian on a short jumper with 1:20 left.
Spillman rebounded an Orange Lutheran miss inside with nine seconds left, setting up the final chain of events.
“We beat Tesoro by one [in the regional semifinals] and it felt great,” said Lancers coach Daniel Dunbar, whose team, like Pacifica Christian, was playing in its first regional final. “Today, we’re on the other side of it, we lose by one and it’s tough … Without a senior group like we have, this doesn’t happen. This is a player-driven program, and those seniors did a great job of leading us all the way to this point.”
Berokoff was among those who celebrated the hardest for Pacifica Christian. Only a handful of teams throughout the state each year can say they ended their season with a win, and the Tritons have put themselves a win away from that enviable position.
“My kids truly love each other,” Berokoff said. “They didn’t want their season to be over. They just wanted one more day, and we just kept preaching love in our program, and being together as a group. I know it’s cliché, but they really do love each other, and I think it shows by how we play.”
CIF State Southern California Regional Division II playoffs
Pacifica Christian Orange County 52, Orange Lutheran 51
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Pacifica Christian 15 – 17 – 9 – 11 — 52
Orange Lutheran 13 – 12 – 11 – 15 — 51
PC — L. Stewart 15, Spillman 10, A. Stewart 10, Deal 7, Semaan 6, Strauss 4.
3-pt. goals — Spillman 1, Deal 1.
Fouled out — None.
Technicals — None.
OL — Potter 14, Paleo 11, Smith 9, Manea 5, Gazzaniga 5, Magalong 4, Nagy 3.
3-pt. goals — Potter 3, Smith 3, Magalong 1, Nagy 1.
Fouled out — Gazzaniga.
Technicals — Gazzaniga.
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