It was the steady play of senior Blake Burzell, the tournament MVP, that helped the Laguna Beach High boys’ basketball team in all five of its wins at the Grizzly Invitational tournament.
But it was a play by freshman post player Nolan Naess in the closing seconds of the championship game Saturday night at Godinez High that helped Laguna Beach secure a 59-55 win over Aliso Niguel, as well as its first Grizzly Invitational title in program history.
With Laguna up by two points with 12 seconds left, Naess stole an Aliso Niguel inbound pass from underneath the Wolverines’ basket near the top of the key. He fed Burzell for a layup as the Breakers (5-0) survived a back-and-forth game against the Wolverines (4-1).
“We kind of discovered who we were, and I’m pretty proud of the kids,” Laguna Beach coach Bret Fleming said. “We were switching everything [on the last inbound play], and we were worried about [6-foot-9 Aliso senior center Harminder Dhaliwal] slipping to the rim. We got that covered, and the rookie made the switch, saw the ball coming out and ran for it and got a tip. It was a big-time play. He’s got a lot of composure for a freshman.”
Burzell finished with a game-high 18 points in the title game on his way to the MVP honors. Laguna Beach senior guards Owen McMurray and Charlie Rounaghi, both of whom scored nine points in the final, also earned all-tournament team accolades.
“Charlie Rounaghi, for us, he just sets the table,” Fleming said. “He’s averaging about 10 assists right now.”
Laguna Beach led nearly the whole way. The lead reached double digits in the second quarter, after Aliso Niguel cut it to two points early in the quarter. Laguna Beach responded with a 10-0 run, sparked by back-to-back three pointers by Naess and McMurray.
The Breakers led by as many as 15 points early in the third quarter, but the Wolverines battled all the way back. Aliso Niguel senior guard Caleb Freeman-Sacker hit two three-pointers in the quarter. The second, from the left corner at the quarter buzzer, gave the Wolverines a 44-43 lead headed into the final quarter.
But Aliso Niguel went nearly five minutes to start the fourth quarter without scoring any points. The Breakers built a 50-44 lead before Dylan Dickerson cut it in half, hitting a three-pointer with 3:15 left.
Dickerson would hit two more three-pointers before it was done. His third of the quarter cut the Breakers’ lead to 57-55 in the final minute, and Laguna missed a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left.
Aliso Niguel missed a potential game-tying lay-up, and Burzell grabbed the rebound but fell down. He was called for traveling, giving Aliso another chance with 12 seconds left. After the timeout, Naess came up large with the steal.
Dhaliwal and Dickerson led Aliso Niguel with 16 points each, but the Wolverines were unable to beat the Breakers in the final of the tournament like they did in 2013.
“The last time we were in the championship, Aliso beat us,” Fleming said. “It’s kind of nice to get a little payback.”
Laguna Beach 59, Aliso Niguel 55
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Laguna Beach 19 – 15 – 9 – 16 — 59
Aliso Niguel 12 – 9 – 23 – 11 — 55
LB – Burzell 18, Naess 9, Rounaghi 9, McMurray 9, Morgan 8, Armstrong 6.
3-pt. goals – Morgan 2, Naess 1, Burzell 1, McMurray 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
AN – Dhaliwal 16, Dickerson 16, Parks 8, Freeman-Sacker 8, Hlousek 5, Reed 2.
3-pt. goals – Dickerson 4, Freeman-Sacker 2, Parks 1.
Fouled out – None.