LAGUNA BEACH — Sam Garner and Emily Writer met at midcourt after the game, sharing first a chest-bump and then a big hug.
On senior night for the Laguna Beach High girls' basketball team, the four-year varsity starters delivered.
Costa Mesa's seniors went more quickly to the locker room after their Orange Coast League title hopes took a big hit. The Mustangs fell in the key league game, 51-36, on Thursday night at Laguna Beach High.
The Mustangs (11-13, 6-2 in league) fell two games behind rival Estancia (8-0 in league) with two to play. The Eagles can clinch the outright league title by winning at Saddleback on Monday night.
Costa Mesa plays host to last-place Calvary Chapel on Monday, followed by the second Battle for the Bell game against Estancia on Wednesday.
"Hopefully we'll come out with a victory against Calvary and then we'll look for Estancia," Mustangs Coach Nichole Maddox said. "If it comes down to it and we're there for second place, that's not a complete loss for our season."
The 6-foot Garner made sure the Breakers spoiled things in her final regular-season home game, recording 13 points, 22 rebounds and 13 blocks.
Garner got her third triple-double of the season against the Mustangs, who had nobody on the court taller than senior Annie Sturm at 5-9.
"We can't do anything about our lack of height, but it's something we should have adjusted to," Maddox said. "We adjusted in the wrong way. We adjusted our shot to her benefit, as opposed to just playing our game."
The Mustangs held Writer to 13 points, seven points off her scoring average and tied for her lowest total in league play. But they watched Laguna sophomore guard Lola Cowie nail four three-pointers, on her way to a career-high 18 points.
Mesa led by seven early in the second quarter after a steal and layup by senior guard Fransenia Wase, before the Breakers rallied. A three-pointer by Cowie first tied the score, then her triple from the corner gave the Breakers (10-9, 4-4 in league) a three-point lead with a minute left in the half.
Cowie was left open in the corner on the first play of the third quarter as well, and she nailed another three-pointer as the Breakers took a 27-19 lead.
Garner was not surprised, even if the Mustangs won in the teams' first meeting.
"This was a team that we knew we could play with, and we knew that we should beat," Garner said. "I think having the advantage of being on our home court, and having all our friends and family here, really helped."
Maddox watched her team cut the deficit to six points twice in the fourth quarter. The second time it came on a steal and layup by Sturm, who had team-highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds.
But then the Mustangs left Cowie open again, a bad idea as her fourth three-pointer gave Laguna Beach a 43-32 lead with 3:20 to play. Coach Jon Hendrickson pumped his fist; his Breakers were on their way to a big win.
Wase had 10 points and sophomore guard Marilyn Armstrong had nine points and six steals for Mesa, which returned back to Costa Mesa pondering the double rims in the Breakers' gym.
"It probably sounds weird, but the rims are different here," Maddox said. "They have like a double rim. It's a little bit thicker. It's like the fairgrounds."
The ultimate prize, not a stuffed animal but a league title, is now out of the Mustangs' control.
Orange Coast League
Laguna Beach 51, Costa Mesa 36
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CM 12 – 7 – 5 – 12 — 36
LB 7 – 17 – 10 – 17 — 51
CM – Sturm 17, Wase 10, Armstrong 9.
3-pt. goals – Wase 2.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
LB – Cowie 18, Garner 13, Writer 13, Battle 5, Wisbaum 2.
3-pt. goals – Cowie 4.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.