RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Coach Ryan Schachter said Corona del Mar High was up against a team that was more athletic. That is saying something because the Sea Kings are the most talented players he said he has guided in five seasons at CdM.
But four players on the Lutheran of La Verne roster are NCAA Division I basketball recruits. The Sea Kings just have one player committed to play on the next level.
The Trojans are so deep that there is not a starting spot for everyone. Bruce English, who is bound for Loyola Marymount University, comes off the bench.
English got his chance Tuesday night and he proved to be the difference-maker in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs.
The senior guard knocked a big three-pointer late and scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half to help fourth-seeded Lutheran edge fifth-seeded CdM, 53-49, at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. The Trojans advance to the semifinals for a showdown with top-seeded Price of Los Angeles.
Lutheran (21-4) gets its rematch Friday with Price (22-6) and they will once again be at home.
The Sea Kings (19-10) almost earned the right to move on. They had chances to continue their postseason run. They slowed the game down, forcing Lutheran to go to its half-court offense.
Sloppy play down the stretch and a dismal three-point shooting performance eliminated the Sea Kings from the quarterfinals for the second straight season.
"We took some ill-advised shots late," said Schachter, who saw his team go three of 22 from behind the three-point line. "It came down to missed shots that we should've made. [The Trojans] hit some shots we didn't think they'd be able to hit."
The one successful field goal that surprised Schachter the most was the three-pointer by English with 3:21 left to play.
The Sea Kings had just cut the deficit to 46-45. Clayton Ragsdale stole the ball and quickly went up for a layup, giving the senior point guard seven points. The Trojans appeared rattled, until they went to English on an inbound pass.
A one-point advantage quickly turned into a four-point lead after English hit a three. He was wide open and it was by design. The Sea Kings did not believe he could make his second three of the night.
"We took our chances on him shooting threes," said Schachter, who offered a stat for doing so. "You know, he's hit 10 threes all year."
That number is now 12 for English from behind the arc. The first three by English Tuesday came at a critical time as well.
With the Sea Kings jumping ahead, 37-33, with a three-pointer by Danny Cheek at the 2:05 mark in the third quarter, the Trojans needed an answer. The Northern Arizona University-bound Cheek did his best to keep CdM on top, scoring eight of his game-high 21 points in the third.
English delivered for Lutheran. He closed out the third quarter with five straight points. His three-pointer with 47 seconds left in the quarter gave Lutheran a 38-37 lead going into the final eight minutes.
The lead went back to CdM 13 seconds into the fourth. Cheek drained his second three-pointer.
The two teams went back and forth, tying each other twice in the fourth. The game was even for much of the evening, thanks to the hustle play of forward Andrew McCormack, who came off the bench and gave the Sea Kings second-chance opportunities with his six offensive rebounds.
But when CdM senior forward Marcus Bradley picked up his third foul a minute into the fourth, the Sea Kings struggled finding a second scoring option. The 6-foot-6 Bradley, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, did not record a basket until there was 22 seconds left.
The Trojans' size, with 6-9 junior Grant Jerrett, an Arizona commit, and 6-8 senior Xavier Jones, created problems late, forcing CdM to shoot from the outside.
Jerrett finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
When the Sea Kings were not missing threes, they were turning the ball over. Any hope of reaching the semis slipped away for a talented CdM team with 10 seniors.
"It was a lot of highs and a lot of lows," said Schachter, whose team was unable to win the Pacific Coast League title outright and had to share it when CdM lost the final two league games. "[This was] a very emotional team. When I get a chance to look back, we had a lot of talent on this team, and we played a team that had a little bit more talent.
"I'm proud of the effort the guys gave. We just didn't play good enough. To move on, you've got to play really well."
CIF Southern Section Division III-AA
Lutheran 53, Corona del Mar 49
CdM 17 – 11 – 9 – 12 – 49
Lutheran 15 – 11 – 12 – 15 – 53
CdM – Cheek 21, Bradley 14, Ragsdale 7, Haly 5, Freeman 2.
3-pointers – Cheek 2, Ragsdale 1.
L – English 15, Jerrett 15, Osorno 9, C. Cooper 9, Jones 3, E. Cooper 2.
3-pointers – English 2, Osorno 1, C. Cooper 1.