NEWPORT COAST — Corona del Mar High Coach Mark Decker spent a few minutes talking to Sage Hill School's former coach before the girls' basketball game on Monday.
When Decker began coaching the Sea Kings five years ago, Lou Silverman was one of the first coaches he met. Since Silverman is no longer leading the Lightning, it was time for Decker to say hi to Sage Hill's new coach.
The new coach's style reminded Decker of Silverman. Taylor Cohen coached under Silverman last season and Decker figured the Lightning would play CdM tough.
They definitely did in the second half.
Sage Hill cut into CdM's 16-point halftime lead, getting as close as two points early in the fourth quarter. Decker called a timeout, hoping to slow down the Lightning and get his team back on track.
The three-point play proved to be the answer for CdM in the fourth quarter. The Sea Kings knocked down three shots from behind the arc and converted one at the free-throw line to defeat Sage Hill, 53-41.
The last time Decker's Sea Kings played at Sage Hill was four seasons ago and they left the gym with a nonleague loss. They avoided a setback this time around, three days before the Sea Kings open the second part of Pacific Coast League play.
"We regrouped, which was really good," said Decker, whose team shot 54% from the field in the fourth quarter. "We picked it up on defense, stopped giving them easy shots. We hit some big shots."
The clutch three-point plays came in less than a two-minute stretch in the final quarter.
Jordan Meyers nailed the first three-pointer for CdM, followed by Melanie de Arakal, then Maddy Camarillo at the charity stripe. The trio pushed the Sea Kings' lead to double digits with less than four minutes left to play.
The Sea Kings (10-11) began to look forward to league play, which resumes Thursday at Irvine. With five leagues contests left, CdM is in a three-way tie for fourth place and three games back of the second-place Vaqueros.
"We talked … about getting back to our defensive mentality and that's our strength, [along with] getting out and running," said Decker, whose Sea Kings are 1-4 in league, their only win coming at home against Beckman. "We're capable of doing that against everybody in league. We just have to do it more consistently."
The kind of defensive effort Decker wants out of CdM in league is the one it displayed in the first half at Sage Hill (5-11).
The defense created problems for the bigger Lightning. The Sea Kings forced 10 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, and when the Lightning got a shot off, more often than not they missed.
Sage Hill only made five of 23 field-goal attempts in the first half. The Lightning went into halftime down, 26-10.
Karleh Wilson matched Sage Hill's point total by herself in the first eight minutes. The senior had six points.
Wilson and Meyers went on to lead the Sea Kings with 11 points apiece.
Sage Hill's scoring duo of Maggie Danner and Zoe Kreitenberg used their height to get Sage back in the game in the second half. The 5-foot-11 Danner recorded eight of her 10 points in the third quarter and the 6-2 Kreitenberg added six of her game-high 14 points in the third.
The two also pounded the offensive boards, combining to grab 13. Danner and Kreitenberg finished with 14 and 12 rebounds, respectively.
"[Their size] affected us because we stopped boxing out and stopped playing intense on defense," Decker said. "Every team we play is bigger than us. [Their size] didn't bother us in the first half because we were the more aggressive team."
The aggressive play returned in the fourth quarter and it allowed CdM to beat a third Newport-Mesa program this season.