Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week: Tars' Rakestraw huge down the stretch

Kevin Rakestraw said he has seen the photo on Twitter. The photo isn't of the 7-foot center from Newport Harbor High.

The photo just has his name written inside a large pizza box, with the words "Newport Sucks" in big letters and his last name in smaller letters just below.

A player from the Edison boys' basketball team posted the photo on his Twitter account. The night before a game against Newport Harbor in late January, the tweet read "Team Dinner #rakestraw" followed by a link to the photo.

In the photo, two Edison players are next to a pizza box, one eating a slice and another holding one. They enjoyed their dinner before the Chargers edged the Sailors, 60-58, in overtime of a Sunset League game.

"That was funny," Rakestraw said of the photo. "That didn't bug me that much."

What did bug Rakestraw was that the Sailors lost another tight game to Edison in the waning seconds. For the second time in three weeks, they let another one slip away against the Chargers.

The result, not so much the photo and tweet, motivated the senior. In the team's final six games of the season, you didn't need a hashtag to find Rakestraw.

He played his best down the stretch for the Sailors, leading them to their first CIF Southern Section playoff appearance in three seasons and first postseason win in six seasons.

Rakestraw was a force for Newport Harbor. He doesn't weigh much for his height, 195 pounds, yet he carried the team.

When it mattered most, the last six games, Rakestraw was averaging 17 points, double-digit rebounds and blocking handful of shots to help the Sailors, at one point, win four in a row. The last time they won that many consecutive games was at the start of the season, and those victories came against teams that combined to finish 34 games below .500.

Rakestraw performed back then, averaging 13.2 points 10.2 rebounds during the first four games. How he closed out the season for Newport Harbor bested his start. He faced tougher teams — first in league, then in the CIF Southern Section Division 2A playoffs — that combined to go 83-57.

One of those teams, Westlake, is still playing. Rakestraw tried to end that team's season on Tuesday.

The Sailors hung with the No. 1 seed and Marmonte League champions in the second round , before losing, 87-78, at home. Newport Harbor became just the eighth team to limit Westlake's margin of victory to single digits.

Rakestraw made a difference with his size. Like most big men, Rakestraw scored his points close to the basket. He dunked his way to almost half of his 19 points against Westlake, making eight of nine shots.

One of his dunks tied the game midway through the third quarter. Seventy-five seconds into the fourth, the Sailors led, 62-61. Then Westlake went on a 10-0 run and never relinquished the lead, ending Rakestraw's season.

The season is one Rakestraw said he would never forget. He came into his own. Rakestraw figured out the closer he was to the rim, the more likely he was to make shots and grab rebounds.

That was the case in the Sailors' first-round game at Riverside Patriot on Feb. 15. In the first quarter, he dunked four times and collected 10 points in the quarter.

"The first quarter was a lob clinic," said Coach Bob Torribio, referring to senior guards Zach Wade and Robbie Rettig feeding Rakestraw the ball after they kept driving past Patriot's guards. "They kept coming off of Kevin [to help] and leaving Kevin alone."

The strategy backfired as Rakestraw turned in a career night. He finished with 35 points, 26 rebounds and seven blocks and the Sailors won, 67-62.

The program made big strides in Rakestraw's final season. The Sailors finished 14-14, almost tying their win total from the previous two seasons.

"My first two years, I didn't really do anything," said Rakestraw, adding that he missed most of his freshman season with a broken wrist. "My sophomore year, I played JV. I was still pretty bad. My junior year, I started to get what I was supposed to do. My senior year started out a little better.

"I've had a lot of pressure to be good [because I was tall]. I just never really understood [basketball] and I finally understand it."

Basketball isn't even the best sport Rakestraw plays. Volleyball is and he's one of the top high school middle blockers in the country.

Rakestraw, who earned Newport-Mesa Dream Team and first-team All-Sunset League honors in volleyball last season, will play next year at Stanford.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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Kevin Rakestraw

Born: July 26, 1995

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 7-foot

Weight: 195 pounds

Sport: Boys' basketball

Year: Senior

Coach: Bob Torribio

Favorite food: Orange chicken

Favorite movie: "Caddyshack"

Favorite athletic moment: "First CIF win [in basketball]."

Week in review: Rakestraw finished with 35 points, 26 rebounds and seven blocks in the Sailors' 67-62 win at Riverside Patriot in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2A playoffs.

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