NEWPORT COAST — Mark Loper sat at the end of the Sage Hill School bench. He was in dress pants and shoes, a collared shirt and a tie.
Coach Jeff Beeler preferred to have his senior guard in basketball gear on Friday night. The team's leading scorer was out of action in a home game against rival St. Margaret's with an ankle injury.
The Lightning had a hard time making shots without Loper. As a result, they suffered their most lopsided loss of the season, a 61-33 setback to the Tartans in an Academy League game.
Sage Hill (13-6, 1-3 in league) has not been the same since it opened league play with a victory. The Lightning dropped their third straight league contest.
It is easy to understand why Sage Hill, ranked No. 15 in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA coaches' poll, stood no chance at beating No. 6 St. Margaret's (10-5, 3-0).
"Well, we lost Mark," said Beeler, who is hoping he can get Loper back by next week.
Loper has time to recover in the upcoming two weeks from what Beeler said were torn ligaments in his right ankle. Loper injured the ankle last week in a nonleague game against Orangewood Academy.
The Lightning do not play until next Friday, when they travel to Brethren Christian, the defending league champion. After that, Sage Hill is at Whitney on Jan. 28.
Beeler said the gap between games is due with other teams in league having their school finals in the next couple of weeks.
"We took our finals in December, so we get to take advantage of this time and get some practice," Beeler said. "We'll need to practice."
Two areas Sage Hill looks to improve are shooting from the floor and at the free-throw line, where they shot 22.4% and 36%, respectively, against the Tartans.
The only quarter in which Sage Hill managed to score in double digits was the fourth, when the game was already decided. Michael Kushner helped St. Margaret's put away the game by the third quarter.
Kushner, who finished with a game-high 19 points, drained a wide-open three-pointer late in the third quarter. The three was Kushner's third of the game and it gave the Tartans a 43-20 lead.
Mitch Marmelstein contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds for St. Margaret's. He almost outscored Sage Hill's starters.
The leading scorer for the Lightning was Stefano Nark, who had seven points.
He might have had more, if not for leaving the game with 85 seconds left.
While a defender ripped the ball out of Nark's arms, the junior crashed to the floor in agony. He held his right arm and had to be helped off the court.
St. Margaret's Byron Manzo continued to attack the basket. He scored five straight points at the end, giving him 12 points and making sure the Tartans outscored Sage Hill in every quarter.
Loper, shaking his head, could only watch from the bench.
St. Margaret's 61, Sage Hill 33
SCORE BY QUARTERS
SM 14 – 14 – 17 – 16 — 61
SH 9 – 4 – 8 – 12 — 33
SM – Kushner 19, Marmelstein 15, Manzo 12, Moritzky 10, Edwards 4, McDaniel 1.
3-pt. goals – Kushner 3, Marmelstein 2, Moritzky 1.
Fouled out – Manzo.
Technicals – None.
SH – Nark 7, Chen 6, Ramming 5, Lydon 3, Williamson 3, Petty 2, Hanour 1, Danner 1, Zadra 1 .
3-pt. goals – Nark 2, Williamson 1.
Fouled out – Danner.
Technicals – Danner.