Boys' Basketball: CdM faces tough test in CIF semifinal

From watching the first two minutes of video on Corona del Mar High's next opponent, Coach Ryan Schachter quickly noticed two things: La Verne Damien is athletic and well-coached.

Put those two together, Schachter said, and Damien is going to be difficult to deal with in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs on Friday.

The third-seeded Sea Kings (21-9) are at least at home against No. 2 Damien (23-6). Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

"It's huge," Schachter said of CdM playing in front of its fans for the second straight round in the playoffs. "Our fans came [out for our quarterfinal game against Santa Barbara San Marcos on Tuesday]. We're on ski week and we had great support from our fans. They made a huge impact just on our guys. Our guys fed off our fans.

"Hopefully we can get our fans out for the semifinal game. Our fans are awesome."

The Sea Kings' faithful has had a lot to cheer for in the playoffs. The Sea Kings have blown out each of their three opponents, winning by an average of 29 points per game.

Corona del Mar is up against a program that is making its fourth semifinal trip in five seasons. This marks CdM's first semifinal appearance in six seasons.

While CdM ended its string of three straight quarterfinal exits with an 83-62 win against San Marcos, Damien has struggled in the semifinals.

The Spartans have bowed out at this stage in their past three tries. They always lose to the eventual section champion, Rialto Eisenhower in 2008-09 (Division IIA) and in 2009-10 (Division 2A), and North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake in 2010-11 (Division 3A). Each of the setbacks were tough, in the single digits.

In the way of Coach Matt Dunn leading Damien to its first section final appearance is CdM. The Sea Kings last made a section title game in 2006-07, winning it in Schachter's first season at the helm.

Schachter has said all season that this CdM team is his deepest. The team's top two scorers are seniors Max Stone and Blake Grable, who are averaging 17.3 points and 13 points per game, respectively, in the postseason.

Schachter expects the Sea Kings to have their hands full with Damien point guard Jeremy Hemsley. The 6-foot-3 athletic sophomore is averaging around 18 points and five assists per game this season.

Damien and CdM each finished second in their respective leagues, Sierra and Pacific Coast.

Now, the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds get to battle for the right to play for the No. 1 prize: a section crown.

The Sea Kings have claimed five section titles in their history. They're looking to reach their 10th section championship game.

The winner faces either top-seeded Lawndale Leuzinger (22-7) or at-large entry Santa Margarita (15-14) next week in the finale.

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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