The Sailors struggled again in the first half Monday afternoon against Riverside Hillcrest at Coach Mike's Long Shot Challenge, then found a real rhythm after the break to pull away to a 49-40 triumph at CdM.
Newport Harbor (22-3) made 12 of 22 second-half shots after hitting just 22% over the first two quarters. Top shooter Robbie Spooner appeared to emerge from a slump, sinking a pair of three-pointers and scoring 13 of his 15 points as the Sailors carried a double-digit lead for much of the second half.
“It's really good to see Robbie getting back in his groove, because when he's on, we're unbeatable. I honestly think that,” said senior point guard Sam Barela, Newport Harbor's pivotal player. “He's our best three-point shooter, he's one of the best three-point shooters in the league, and when he's on, we're really good.”
Hillcrest (17-7) countered with junior Sebastian Mendoza, the only key contributor back from last season's CIF Southern Section Division 4AA championship team. The All-CIF selection, who plays every spot on the court over the course of a game, scored 28 of the Trojans' first 30 points en route to 30 — one over his season average — and a dozen rebounds.
“He's such a good player, he made us look like we were playing different defenses on him,” Newport Harbor coach Bob Torribio said. “I'll give his teammates credit. They like playing with him. He might have had 28 of their [first] 30, but it was not selfish. It did not feel selfish.”
Dayne Chalmers, who also scored 15 points for the Sailors, dealt with Mendoza defensively. He limited Mendoza to two-of-seven shooting in the fourth quarter, and Will Harvey was strong on the boards, pulling down nine rebounds.
Barela ran things for Newport Harbor, dishing off 10 assists — most of them while penetrating the lane or driving the baseline — to go with five points, four rebounds and a terrific defensive performance. His coach credited him with helping the offense get back on track.
“Anytime you see the ball go in a little bit like that for us, it makes things a lot easier for you,” Torribio said. “We like No. 20 a lot. [Barela] makes a lot of plays for us, and if guys are making shots, all of a sudden the defense has to change and adjust, and it gives Sam a lot more freedom.”
That was apparent after the break.
The Sailors let a five-point first-quarter lead disappear at the start of the second quarter. Mendoza hit a bank shot off a drive, from inside after maneuvering through a crowd, and a three-pointer to provide the first of Hillcrest's two one-point leads, and it was 17-17 at halftime.
Spooner hit a three-pointer to start a 14-2 run that opened the second half. Mendoza brought the Trojans within five to end the third quarter, and successive baskets by Rafael Gomez and Muchiri Macharia made it 38-34.
Barela took charge. He restored the double-digit advantage by connecting with Chalmers for an alley-oop layup, scoring from the lane, then feeding Spooner underneath. Hillcrest couldn't respond.
The Sailors return to Surf League play Wednesday, when they host Los Alamitos, then they are home Friday against Edison, and finish their Battle of the Bay series at CdM on Jan. 30. They're 1-2 in league play, a game behind Edison and CdM.
“Our league is just so [tough]. Every single night is a battle,” Barela said. “We just got to see the ball go in. When the ball goes in, we're unstoppable. And it hasn't been doing that, but we play so hard on defense. Things will be OK for us.”
Coach Mike’s Long Shot Challenge
Newport Harbor 49, Hillcrest 40
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Hillcrest 6 – 11 – 11 – 12 — 40
Newport Harbor 11 – 6 – 16 – 16 — 49
H – Mendoza 30, Macharia 6, Gomez 4.
3-pt. goals – Mendoza 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
NH – Spooner 15, Chalmers 15, Harvey 6, Barela 5, Darrow 3, Firey 3, McConnaughey 2.
3-pt. goals – Spooner 2, Firey 1.
Fouled out – Spooner.