The Costa Mesa High boys’ basketball players took longer than their coach to exit the locker room following Friday night’s game.
Mustangs coach Mike Ofer emerged from the locker room, a tear still streaking down his cheek. He had just given his final speech to a group that included nine seniors.
After the Mustangs lost 55-43 at home to Ridgecrest Burroughs in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs, the second-year head coach of the program told his players that they had nothing to hang their heads about.
After all, this season’s team won just the third league title in the history of the program and its first since 2006.
Costa Mesa averaged 65.8 points per game in the regular season, but the length of Burroughs ruled the day.
Burroughs had all but one of its players listed at a height of at least 6 feet, while only two 6-footers played for Costa Mesa.
Senior point guard Dabrien Skipworth had 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals to lead Burroughs to the second round.
“What I told them in there was, ‘Be proud of what we’ve accomplished,’ ” Ofer said. “We’re [Orange Coast] League champs. First time ever in our school’s history to win an outright league title. We won the [Battle for the] Bell [against rival Estancia]. We have a lot to be proud of.’
“At the end of the day, what I told them was, ‘Sometimes, the resilience is what you take with you in life. If you can get through this, you can get through anything in life.’ I’m extremely proud of them. It’s obviously emotional in there. We’ve got nine seniors, so it’s tough. I’m sad, but I’m proud.”
Costa Mesa (15-12) had trouble stopping the dribble drive, and it was Burroughs’ ability to score points in the paint that would not allow the Mustangs to catch up after they fell behind early.
“We emphasize the guards getting into the key, and if you can’t finish because the big is helping, our big man stays wide and then they take a step in,” Skipworth said. “They make a power move and then go up.”
Toren Vice, who had 10 points and seven rebounds, was often the recipient of those passes in the key. Trevor Frisbee had 12 points, and Evan Hansen added nine points for Burroughs (17-10).
The Mustangs fell behind 19-8 after the first quarter, and it was up to their primary scorer to keep them in the game. Nico Dasca, who had a game-high 27 points to go with nine rebounds, scored 11 of Costa Mesa’s first 13 points.
An offensive putback by Ethan Elliott at the 6:03 mark of the third quarter accounted for the first Costa Mesa points scored by a player other than Dasca and Osman Hefner (12 points).
Costa Mesa closed the gap to 35-30 on a three-pointer by Dasca with 4:25 to go in the third quarter, but it never drew closer than five points.
Dasca showcased his abilities as a pure shooter, knocking down all nine of his attempts at the free-throw line.
“I’ve never coached someone who can score the ball like Nico can,” Ofer said. “Just such a solid kid, too. Beyond being a good basketball player, he’s a good person. He’s a good human being. He’s got good character.
“He’s really set the precedent of what our program is about, and our lower-level guys have got a lot to live up to, but I think they can do that.”
Dasca has a handful of memories to take with him from his Mustangs career, including a postseason victory in the first round against Westminster last year.
Another memory stood out for Dasca, however. The senior shooting guard said, “The league championship, best memory by far.”
Elliott added eight rebounds for the Mustangs, but Burroughs won the rebounding battle 38-26.
“This team really loved each other,” Ofer said. “We were truly a family. We thought we had a good shot tonight. We gave it everything we had, and we just fell a little bit short.”
CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs
Ridgecrest Burroughs 55, Costa Mesa 43
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Burroughs 19 – 12 – 12 – 12 — 55
Costa Mesa 8 – 15 – 13 – 7 — 43
B – Skipworth 15, Frisbee 12, Vice 10, Hansen 9, Sponseller 4, Martin 3, Armstrong 2.
3-pt. goals – Frisbee 2, Hansen 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
CM – Dasca 27, Hefner 12, Eth. Elliott 2, Williamson 2.
3-pt. goals – Dasca 2, Hefner 2.
Fouled out – None.