CORONA DEL MAR — Corona del Mar High senior Melanie de Arakal loves her football analogies.
Before the CIF Southern Section Division 3A girls' basketball playoffs began, she pulled out another one. She said she saw the New York Giants do something similar during pre-Super Bowl television coverage.
During a CdM girls' basketball team meeting, de Arakal handed everyone a poker chip. The chip was supposed to represent the individual accomplishments and accolades of each individual player.
"Are you going to play for that chip, or are you going to throw the chip in, go all-in and play for the entire pot?" de Arakal said. "CIF is the entire pot. I gave everyone a poker chip, and I said, 'Are you all-in or not?' And they all threw their chips in. It's no longer about that one chip, it's about the entire pot."
Talk about motivation to play team basketball. On Thursday night, the Sea Kings did something that was even rarer than a royal flush.
They pulled away late to defeat Saddleback, 37-28, in a first-round Division 3A playoff game. It is CdM's first playoff victory since 2001.
The No. 10-seeded Sea Kings upped the ante. They will play at No. 7 La Canada in a second-round game Saturday night.
"I'm really happy for this group," CdM Coach Mark Decker said. "It's a different team than last year, and despite our record in league [1-9], they completed hard. We actually played some of our best games against Woodbridge and Uni. I'm just happy for them, because they've talked about this since last summer. They've been just a fun group to be with."
De Arakal led all scorers with 11 points, including a trio of three-pointers. But Corona del Mar (11-16) definitely relied on the team aspect. After the starting five struggled to start the game, Decker subbed five-for-five. Senior Amy Hoogenboom, sophomores Katie Scott, Keaton Gaughan and Kate Thompson, as well as freshman Maria King, came off the bench.
The bench gave CdM a shot in the arm, scoring five unanswered points to tie the score at 8-8 after the first quarter. Thompson in particular, a junior varsity call-up, stepped up big all game long and finished with seven points.
Thompson's three-point play with 2:53 left in the game gave CdM a 29-28 advantage.
"I am so proud of her," said Hoogenboom, who scored three points and had a team-high eight rebounds. "I'm just proud of this team. Regardless of how many years you've been playing varsity, everyone just came to play. Nobody gave up, that was the key."
The Sea Kings stepped up defensively. After Saddleback (7-13) got a driving lay-up from Gardenia Delgado and a steal and lay-up from Alexis Nieto to open the fourth quarter, the Sea Kings ended the game on a 13-2 run.
They were able to advance despite an off game from senior forward Karleh Wilson, at least offensively. She scored just one point, though she did chip in six rebounds and three steals.
"She can do so many other things for us," Decker said. "Too often we get caught up in, 'She's got to score.' But she rebounds, she brings the ball up. There's so many other things she brings us. It would help if she scored a little more, but we have other girls that can pick up the slack."
Wilson did assist de Arakal on the biggest shot of the night, after driving the lane and colliding with senior teammate Jordan Meyers. Wilson kept possession and threw the ball back out to de Arakal, who nailed her third three-pointer to give CdM a 34-28 lead with 2:15 to go.
Saddleback Coach Al Martinez called timeout before the LL Cool J song, "Mama Said Knock You Out," started playing in the gym. It seemed to fit, as the Roadrunners had just hit the canvas.
Gaughan and King each hit second-half three-pointers for the Sea Kings, while King added four steals. Scott made three free throws in the fourth quarter, helping CdM pull away.
"I could not be more proud of the second unit, honestly," de Arakal said. "That was the best I've seen a bench play in high school girls' basketball in my life. It was incredible."
CdM will be plenty motivated to beat La Canada on Saturday. La Canada beat CdM in the first round of the playoffs two straight years, in 2009 and 2010.
"I have confidence after this game that we're at least going to go up there and give them a run for their money," Hoogenboom said. "This would be the team to do it."
The Sea Kings do feel like they have a chance this time.
After all, they are all in.
CIF Southern Section
Corona del Mar 37, Saddleback 28
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Saddleback 8 – 4 – 10 – 6 – 28
CdM 8 – 5 – 11 – 13 – 37
Sadd – Delgado 10, Bernal 7, Alejandro 4, Gils 3, Ruiz 2, Nieto 2.
3-pt. goals – Gils 1, Bernal 1.
Fouled out – Alejandro, Nieto.
Technicals – None.
CdM – de Arakal 11, Thompson 7, Gaughan 5, Scott 3, Hoogenboom 3, King 3, Camarillo 2, Meyers 2, Wilson 1.
3-pt. goals – de Arakal 3, Gaughan 1, King 1.
Fouled out – None.