Step one is done.
Facing an Estancia team Wednesday that figured to be a big challenge to them in the race for the 2011 Orange Coast League boys' basketball championship, Laguna Beach picked up a key road win by outlasting the host Eagles in overtime, 57-52, in the league opener for both teams.
Laguna, which reached the .500 mark (8-8) for the season, came back late in the game to force overtime. Guard Jack Pillsbury hit two critical three-points shots, one each toward the end of regulation and in overtime.
The Breakers also overcame losing two starters, senior forward Tyler Kesler and junior guard Tyler Masukawa, to foul trouble, to successfully begin defense of their four-year reign as league champs.
Kesler fouled out early in the fourth quarter and finished with six points. Masukawa exited with 10 points.
"One thing good to come out of this is that, league-wise, it was an important win to get," Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said. "I also thought it was a good effort by the kids, who were really pumped up for the game. On the flip side, we were kind of careless out there and had a lot of turnovers. But we still were able to get the win."
The Breakers were down three when they designed a play to set up Brandon Lewis for a three-point shot, but Estancia closed down the opportunity. The ball eventually went into Pillsbury's hands and the junior guard nailed a three to tie the score.
Pillsbury later connected on a big three-point shot in overtime that helped send the Breakers toward victory. Those were his six points in the game.
"We lost Tyler Kesler and Tyler Masukawa to fouls, but we had other kids really step up and play key roles for us," Fleming said. "Jack (Pillsbury) hit those two huge shots to keep us in the game and I thought Derek Reigel had a really good game."
Reigel, a junior forward, led Laguna with 18 points. Jake Dalke scored nine points, sophomore guard Cole Kesler had seven points and Lewis, a junior forward, had three points.
Laguna hosts league foe Calvary Chapel at 7 Tonight. Next week, the Breakers are home Wednesday (7 p.m.) against Godinez. Laguna hasn't played at Dugger Gym since hosting Irvine on Dec. 10.
Calvary Chapel opened league play Wednesday with a 47-38 win over Saddleback.
"Calvary always seems to play us tough and when we play, it seems to always be a pretty exciting game," Fleming said of the Eagles. "I think it'll be another tough one Friday."
Laguna got off to a quick start in its Orange Coast League opener Tuesday at Estancia but couldn't overcome the loss of leading scorer Emily Writer and fell to the Eagles, 55-40.
Laguna Coach Jon Hendrickson said that Writer, who was averaging 22 points a game, injured herself during the third quarter while diving for a loose ball. The senior guard "took a header" to her cheekbone, he said, and never returned to the game.
The Breakers were holding a 33-31 lead when Writer, who had already scored 22 points in just over two quarters, was injured early in the second half.
"Without her in the lineup, we lost the ability to handle the ball and make good decisions," said Hendrickson, whose Breakers were up, 13-5, after the first quarter. "I feel like we gained a lot of confidence in that first half and the girls now know that we can play with the best team in our league and compete on a nightly basis against whomever we are playing."
Prior to taking on Estancia, Laguna took on Vaughn of the San Fernando Valley in nonleague action Saturday and romped to a 55-17 victory. Writer had 19 points and Sam Garner 16 for the Breakers.
In another nonleague game Jan. 6, Laguna saw an 11-point third-quarter lead evaporate against Ocean View and fell to the host Seahawks, 50-38. During a quick burst at the outset of the second half, it appeared that the Breakers were headed toward an easy victory.
A one-minute, 30-second run turned a close game into an 11-point advantage for the Breakers. But from there, it was all Ocean View which went on a 17-0 blitz of its own to win going away.
"I think they just took us out of what we wanted to do, using a triangle-and-two to take our two best players out of the game," Hendrickson said. "We didn't make adjustments to that, and that's a coaching error on my part. Things were looking pretty good there for awhile, but I didn't make the proper adjustments."
Ocean View Coach Kim Morris said she knew that Writer and Garner, a senior center, were Laguna's top two scorers and team leaders. Writer came into the game averaging 23 points and Garner was scoring nearly 10 a game and averaging close to 14 rebounds.
"I told our girls if they could reduce that 23 (points) to 12, we'd have a great chance of winning," Morris said. "I thought we really did a nice job of limiting their big players."
Writer scored six points and Garner managed 12 points.
"It's a tough way to lose," Hendrickson said. "After they made their run at us, we just lost focus and seemed to give up."
Lola Cowie hit a short-range jumper with 5:25 left in the game to end Ocean View's 17-0 run and pull the Breakers to within 37-33. Cowie finished with eight points and Holly Battle and Kylie Even both scored six.
Laguna hosts Godinez at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Dugger Gym in a league game.