The Laguna Beach boys' basketball team was one of 10 teams to participate Wednesday on the opening day of the two-day Orange County North/South Challenge at El Toro High. Playing the first of an 11-game event, the Breakers were outscored by La Habra, 15-3, in the fourth quarter, and were handed a 48-44 defeat by the Highlanders.
The Breakers took a 22-18 halftime lead and extended their lead to 41-33 after three quarters.
"That's five games in a row now where we've had the lead, and lost," Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said. "The other teams get down against us, then get desperate. We've had problems finishing games."
Senior forward Brandon Lewis connected on five three-point shots and led Laguna with 17 points. Junior guard Jake Dalke hit four three-pointers and finished with 16 points. The Highlanders' Ryan Hall led all scorers with 26 points.
Laguna finished up play last week at the Charlie Wilkins Tournament at Westminster High. In a Dec. 16 game, the Breakers fell, 59-37, to Trabuco Hills after being outscored, 31-11, in the second half. Dalke scored a game-high 16 points and Lewis and junior guard Cole Kesler scored nine and eight points, respectively.
In their tournament finale on Saturday, the Breakers jumped out to a 22-14 first-quarter lead on Culver City but ended up losing, 60-57. Lewis, who hit four three-pointers, and Kesler both scored 16 points. Dalke had the second of his four double-figure scoring games in the tournament with 14 points.
Laguna, which has dropped five straight games and is 5-7, enters the Estancia Tournament next week. The Breakers open with a 2:30 p.m. first-round game Tuesday against Marina.
"We've lost five games in a row and that has to be a first for our program in the last seven years," Fleming said. "It's frustrating but we had a good meeting [Thursday We've got this (Estancia) tournament coming up and we'll play four games there, and then we have 10 league games to play. We have 14 games left. I'm hoping we can turn things around."
Having battled tough competition in the first few weeks of the season, Laguna showed its own toughness Dec. 15 by playing through driving rain to score a 2-1 victory over visiting Laguna Hills at Guyer Field. Defense paved the way for the Breakers in a battle Coach Bill Rolfing called "hard fought." Leading the defensive stance were sisters Sarah (junior) and Amy (freshman) Hewlett, sophomore Emma Barker, varsity veteran and senior defender Hannah Magstatdt and freshman goalie Kylie George, whom Rolfing said was "outstanding in goal."
The Breakers struck first when standout senior midfielder Marina Paul scored on a penalty shot. Laguna Hills drew even before the half but in the second half, the Breakers took the lead for good when sophomore defender Tessa Hopper punched in the winning goal.
In what has become a holiday tradition for the program, Laguna travels to the desert next week for a trio of nonleague games. This year's excursion finds the Breakers playing at Xavier Prep at 1 p.m. Tuesday, against Indio at Ed White Stadium at 11 a.m. Wednesday and closing with an 11 a.m. match at Coachella Valley on Thursday.
The Breakers carried momentum into the holiday break by winning two nonleague road games this week.
On Monday, Laguna went to Irvine Park to take on Beckman and shut down the host Patriots, 3-0, thanks to goals by Joseph Russo, Reece Barton and Chris Tellez.
"It was always going to be tough to go and play away at Beckman and get a result," Laguna Coach Daniel Richards said. "We were carrying a slightly smaller squad for the match and the boys did a great job managing the game. Once we settled down and found our rhythm, we started to control the game and always looked dangerous going forward. The defense looked solid throughout and kept the Beckman offensive chances to a minimum."
The Breakers came back Tuesday to register another shutout, this one a 4-0 score over host Oxford Academy in Cypress. Russo recorded a hat trick and freshman midfielder Harrison Gregory had a goal, all in the second half.
Laguna closed out last week at Aliso Niguel and was shutout, 2-0, by the host Wolverines on Dec. 16.
Richards said the Breakers, who are 3-1-2, will train through the holiday break. The program's alumni game is at 2 p.m. Thursday at Guyer Field.
Laguna returns to regular-season action Jan. 6 at home (6:30 p.m.) against San Juan Hills.
Laguna began play Tuesday at the Cavalier Classic at Santiago High in Garden Grove. In their opener, the Breakers rallied in the second half to take a three-point lead on Anaheim, but the Colonists went ahead in the closing minutes and pulled out a 26-25 victory. Junior guard Kylie Even scored 10 points for the Breakers.
"We played well on the defensive end, played with good energy and competed," said Laguna Coach Mark Lewis, whose team had a couple of turnovers and had foul trouble in the closing minutes of the game.
The Breakers played their second tournament game Wednesday and lost, 61-16, to Rancho Alamitos. Sophomore guard Audrey Rodriguez led Laguna with eight points.
Laguna won't return to action until Jan. 5 when it hosts Savanna in a 6 p.m. nonleague game.