When the Laguna Beach High boys’ basketball team traveled to Segerstrom for a season opener on Wednesday night, it was safe to say that neither team looked like it did last season.
The host Jaguars went to the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA semifinals in the 2017-18 season, but Segerstrom lost 11 seniors.
Laguna Beach returned just one starter from last season’s 26-win season. Nolan Naess, a sophomore guard, was the holdover, and his experience gave Laguna Beach the edge it needed.
Naess had a game-high 27 points, including the go-ahead free throws with 1:40 remaining, as Laguna Beach defeated Segerstrom 44-41 in a nonleague game.
“He’s a good kid,” Breakers coach Bret Fleming said of Naess. “He’s going to have a good career for us. He was there last year. He started for us as a freshman, so he has some experience, and the other kids will catch up.”
Fleming described his team as “young and skinny.” The Breakers do not have a senior on their roster, and Fleming expects growing pains.
Laguna Beach led 37-24 after Naess cashed in on an offensive rebound with 2:41 to go in the third quarter. Segerstrom turned up its defensive intensity, and some timely three-pointers helped the Jaguars get back in the game.
John Rocha hit a three-pointer at the buzzer late in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Alex Chavez found Rocha open on the wing, and his three-pointer tied the game at 41-41 with 2:22 left. He was fouled on the shot, but he could not complete the four-point play to give the Jaguars’ their first lead since Jonathan Morales scored the opening basket of the game just 25 seconds in.
Naess made both ends of a one-and-one opportunity at the free-throw line to give Laguna Beach the lead again. He made one of two on his next trip with just 2.1 seconds remaining, and then a turnover by the Breakers with 0.8 seconds on the clock gave Segerstrom a chance for the tie.
Chavez inbounded from the offensive base line, but Morales could not play the hero for the Jaguars on the last-second heave.
“I thought we got a little flustered,” Fleming said. “We’re young, and the kids didn’t really maintain their composure very well. We’ll get better.”
The Breakers got good looks in their half-court sets, especially with Naess breaking down the defense off the dribble. He had 14 points in the first half.
“They were playing me right,” Naess said. “They were thinking that I’m a righty, so push me left. I can go left, too. It might not be as good as my right, but I practice it.”
Lucas Kravitz connected on back-to-back three-pointers from the corner to stretch Laguna Beach’s lead to 25-16 with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter. Willie Rounaghi assisted on both shots.
“We just got the ball [and] open looks,” Kravitz said. “Fleming runs good plays. We know how to execute. We run plays in practice. We just get open looks, and we have knockdown shooters on this team.”
Rounaghi had five points, three assists and two steals. Chase Hall added four points and nine rebounds for the Breakers.
Rocha had a team-high 10 points for the Jaguars. Charles Erving, a transfer from Chicago Curie, added eight points and eight rebounds, and Chavez had seven points and four assists.
Laguna Beach 44, Segerstrom 41
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Laguna Beach 11 – 16 – 12 – 5 – 44
Segerstrom 6 – 12 – 13 – 10 – 41
LB – Naess 27, Kravitz 8, Rounaghi 5, Hall 4.
3-pt. goals – Kravitz 2, Rounaghi 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
S – Rocha 10, Erving 8, Pulido 8, Chavez 7, Morales 4, Cervantes 2, Javalera 2.
3-pt. goals – Rocha 3, Chavez 1.
Fouled out – None.