Mesa struggles to respond

COSTA MESA — Costa Mesa High Coach Bryan Rice used but one word to describe his boys' basketball team after it lost, 59-43, to visiting Irvine Tuesday night.

"Fragile," Rice said.

The Mustangs (6-4) were aggressive at times, but not strong enough to overcome the Vaqueros, who led, 40-34, after three periods. Sophomore Sean Comer scored on a layup early in the fourth to bring Costa Mesa within four.

However, Irvine went on an 8-0 run, which featured two three-pointers and a strong offensive rebound and putback by sophomore Jeffrey DeKlotz.

The Mustangs struggled to respond. Senior guard Jordan Walden, who had the hot hand early on, missed two three-pointers, as did senior guard Nick Hefner.

Walden led Costa Mesa with 13 points and Hefner had 12. Senior center Saaeed El Assadi added 10 points.

The Mustangs became fragile on defense, as they were only left to foul Irvine because they were running out of time in the fourth period.

The Vaqueros (7-5) made nine of 10 free throws down the stretch. Junior guard Cameron Foster scored the final seven points, five on free throws, to finish with a game-high 19 points. Senior guard Matthew Kerns scored 14 points and senior guard Michael Burg had 10 points.

Irvine's 8-0 run in the fourth quarter appeared to break a fragile team. Rice doesn't want that to be the case in the future.

"I want them to be a mentally tough team," Rice said. "When we got down and we were within four and we got some steals and we missed some shots we got frustrated. Instead of keeping it going we backed off. We have to keep going at them."

Instead, the Mustangs became the fourth Orange Coast League team to lose to the Vaqueros.

Irvine beat Estancia, 40-39, on Nov. 30, edged Laguna Beach, 57-54, on Dec. 9 and scored a 43-25 win over Calvary Chapel on Friday.

But Irvine Coach Kris Klamberg said his team is in a state of flux. The Vaqueros seem to be searching for their identity after they lost their leading scorer, Mahesh Kumar, to a torn ACL during the win over Laguna Beach.

Kumar, a senior guard, was averaging 12.1 points per game. The Vaqueros were also without another starter, 6-foot-4 senior forward Ryan Soltes, who is nursing an ankle sprain, but is close to returning.

"We're trying to figure it out with our roles," Klamberg said. "But I thought our guys stepped up to do that tonight. It's nice to put it all together and get the win."

The Mustangs appeared as if they were putting a win together in the third period. Walden and Hefner had three three-pointers each. They both connected on a three-pointer in the third, Walden's giving Costa Mesa a 32-28 lead with 4:35 left before the final period.

But the Vaqueros came back with a 9-0 run, all on three-pointers. Senior Richard Caceres drained back-to-back three-pointers after Burg drilled one from long distance. It helped Irvine lead, 40-34, after three periods.

Klamberg said he showed his players film on the Mustangs, saying that they pressed. The pressure never really got to Irvine. Klamberg was pleased with how his team broke down Costa Mesa's defense, sometimes with three-pointers and other times drawing fouls.

Rice, in his fourth year at Costa Mesa, thought the Vaqueros played well and shot efficiently, but he still felt the Mustangs could've won the game.

"It was a good measuring stick for us to see where we are," Rice said. "We have a lot of potential. As we progress into league we have to start living up to that potential. It's not about just being good on paper. We really have to live up to that potential."

Costa Mesa will try to break out of its fragile mode when it plays host to Garden Grove Jan. 4 at 7 p.m.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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Nonleague

Irvine 59, Costa Mesa 43

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Irvine 7 – 19 – 14 – 19 – 59

CM 8 – 16 – 10 – 9 – 43

Irv – Foster 19, Kerns 14, Burg 10, DeKlotz 7, Caceres 6, Kaye 3.

3-pointers – Kerns 2, Burg 2, Caceres 2, Foster 1.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

CM – Walden 13, N. Hefner 12, El Assadi 10, K. Hefner 4, S. Comer 2, Dawson 2.

3-pointers – Walden 3, N. Hefner 3.

Fouled out – None.

Technicals – None.

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