CORONA DEL MAR — In its third year in existence, the Corona del Mar Tip-Off Tournament transitioned to a bigger 16-team field this year.
The Sea Kings themselves are also a girls' basketball team in transition. At least, that's the plan.
CdM used its defense to lead to offense and ran past Costa Mesa, 68-52, in a tournament quarterfinal game Tuesday night. The Sea Kings will play either Estancia or Westminster in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, back at CdM.
CdM (2-0) set the tone early against the Mustangs, getting steals early and often. Kayla Marolt was the beneficiary in the first half.
Marolt personally gave the Sea Kings the early advantage, scoring the first seven points of the game on her way to a game-high 24. Many of the fast breaks were orchestrated by another senior guard, Ellie Nadal, who finished with seven steals.
The Sea Kings had a 15-10 lead after a quarter. They already had seven steals, but also seven fouls. The latter stat didn't really bother Coach Mark Decker.
"I would rather have more fouls — which means we're more aggressive — than [Monday] night when we were really passive and just not getting after it," Decker said. "Our defensive intensity was much improved [compared to the season-opening 43-35 win over San Juan Hills]. I think our girls were a little bit more fired up tonight."
Nadal said the Sea Kings were indeed more motivated to beat a Newport-Mesa Unified School District rival. She picked up her scoring later in the game, netting 11 of her 13 points in the second half. Junior Karleh Wilson was also a presence inside with 11 points and six rebounds, while Marolt and senior Daniela Gallardo had four steals each.
Junior Melanie de Arakal had 10 points for the Sea Kings, who also improved from the free-throw line by making 15 of 19.
"I think we just came out more aggressive than we did last game," Marolt said. "We've got to pick up our speed and pressure as much as we can."
The game got away from Costa Mesa (1-1) in the second quarter. After junior Nancy Aguilar hit a three-pointer to bring the Mustangs within two, the Sea Kings went on a 15-4 run capped by two more lay-ups for Marolt.
By halftime, the Sea Kings were up, 37-22.
Like CdM, Costa Mesa is smaller this year. Last year's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, Olivia Scheidt, graduated and now plays for Pacific University in Oregon.
Mesa Coach Nichole Maddox knew Tuesday's game would be tough as the Mustangs were without three players. Maddox said sophomore guards Marilyn Armstrong and Molly Settles were at a volleyball banquet, and junior center Daiton Hawks was taking a night class.
Armstrong, a starter, keys the Mustangs' press defense.
"She's one of our best defenders," Maddox said. "Not having her here changed the whole dynamic of the game. Any other day, we should be able to contend with them."
Aguilar led the Mustangs with 21 points and had six steals. Senior forward Itzel Flores, just 5-foot-6, still got a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
"She's a fighter," said Maddox, whose team will face the loser of the Estancia-Westminster game in a fifth-place semifinal Thursday. "She'll fight 'til the end."
The Sea Kings expect to be there at the end of their host tournament. The championship game is Saturday night at Northwood High.
"We're going to win," Nadal said.
CdM Tip-Off Tournament
Corona del Mar 68, Costa Mesa 52
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Mesa 5 – 10 – 12 – 18 – 12 — 52
CdM 5 – 15 – 22 – 17 – 14 — 68
CM – Aguilar 21, Flores 12, Sturm 9, Castro 4, Salameh 2, Cerrato 2, Torrenueva 2.
3-pt. goals – Aguilar 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
CdM – Marolt 24, Nadal 13, Wilson 11, de Arakal 10, Schroff 5, Gallardo 2, Freeman 2, Meyers 1.
3-pt. goals – Schroff 1.
Fouled out – Gallardo.
Technicals – Schroff 1.