An inability to put opponents away late in games during the last few weeks had sent the Laguna Beach boys' basketball team into a tailspin. On Tuesday, the Breakers took the first of two steps in getting back on track.
Laguna started play Tuesday at the Estancia Coast Classic tournament and defeated Marina, 57-50, in Pool C play. A day later, the Breakers pulled away from Corona, 59-52, to move into the Gold Division semifinals of the tournament. They faced Mission Viejo, the No. 1-seed in Pool A, in the semifinals Thursday. The score from the game wasn't available at press time.
The tournament's championship game is at 7 p.m. Friday. The third-place game precedes the title game at 5:30 p.m. JSerra, the No. 1-seed in Pool B, faced Sunny Hills in Thursday's other semifinal.
"It feels good to win these first two games," Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said. "We had been struggling and at times, still struggled here (Estancia), but the kids did a nice job of finishing both games. That's something we hadn't been doing in our last five games."
Laguna, the No. 2-seed in Pool C, led nearly all the way against Marina (No. 3, Pool C). The Breakers got 13 points from Jake Dalke and nine from Cole Kesler in the first half. They built a 34-23 lead in the third quarter, but that lead began to slip away.
Three foul shots by senior guard Jordon Adnams, who lead all scorers with 23 points, brought Marina to within 44-39 with 3:30 to play. However, Laguna built the lead back to 48-39 on a basket by Jack Pillsbury and never looked back.
Kesler led Laguna in scoring with 21 points and Dalke scored 19.
For a little more than three quarters Wednesday, Laguna was in a back-and-forth battle with Corona (No. 1-seed, Pool C), but pulled away down the stretch.
The Panthers (7-4) clawed to within 53-49 in the final minute, but two free throws each by Kesler, Derek Reigel and Brandon Lewis in the final 28.9 seconds put the game away.
Dalke and Lewis were top scorers for the Breakers with 15 points apiece.
The win allowed Laguna to bring its record to 7-7 heading into the tournament semifinals.
"Defensively, I was pretty pleased with our effort," Fleming said.
"Offensively, I wasn't as happy. I think we kind of got into a panic mode at times."
Laguna closed out play last week at the Cavalier Classic at Santiago High in Garden Grove.
The short-handed Breakers were upended, 57-52, in double overtime by Port Of Los Angeles. Junior forward Madeline Knutson hit a three-point shot in the closing seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime and sophomore guard Kyra Humphries hit from three-point range in the first overtime to set up a second overtime.
"The defensive play of Kyra Humphries and Audrey Rodriguez turned the tide for us with each getting key steals and layups," said Laguna Coach Mark Lewis, whose team outscored POLA, 18-9, in the fourth quarter.
Jane Wallin led Laguna in scoring with 17 points.
In their tournament finale Dec. 23, the Breakers got off to a slow start against host Santiago and couldn't recover in a 57-26 loss. Laguna fell behind, 33-5, at halftime. Humphries had eight points in the loss.
The Breakers return to the court Thursday for a home nonleague game against Savanna. Tip-off is 6 p.m.