Blake Grable had never played in a basketball gym as packed as Corona del Mar High's on Feb. 22.
It seemed like it was standing-room only. It seemed like the entire school came to watch the Sea Kings play La Verne Damien in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs.
Grable's uncle, Don, is the athletic director at CdM, and on that night, he told fans to squeeze in to make room for others. There just wasn't enough room for more than 1,000 bodies to find a seat.
Many fans stood near the gym's entrance. And they stayed on their feet until the end because of Grable, the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year in boys' basketball.
The 6-foot-3 senior guard rallied CdM, accounting for half of the team's 32 points in the second half. Ten of Grable's points came in the fourth quarter in which he converted three three-point plays.
His last three-point attempt in the quarter looked good, until it went in-and-out. The three would've cut the lead to two with about 11 seconds left to play.
The third-seeded Sea Kings never scored again and lost to No. 2 Damien, 61-53. Grable walked off the court, leading CdM with 23 points but falling short of leading the program to its 10th section title game in school history.
"This one is especially tough," Grable said after the Sea Kings' first semifinal appearance in six seasons. "We were at home, we had a huge crowd, everyone's into it, and we were right there. Just a couple of mistakes here and there and we ended up losing.
"It's the most fun I've ever had playing in a basketball game. Even though we didn't win, it was still the best game of my life, the most memorable."
Grable played one more high school game after the semifinals. He made the 48th annual Orange County North-South All-Star Game at Concordia University.
But the game Grable will never forget is the last one at home, in front of his fans. He said he fed off their energy.
Grable finished that evening as the lone CdM player to score in double figures. He got to 23 points, about 10 above his per-game average, by knocking down seven of 15 shots, six of eight free throws and three of seven three-pointers.
Grable also grabbed 10 rebounds, recorded five three-point plays, finishing two at the free-throw line, and came away with three steals.
Even though CdM (21-10) didn't qualify for the section championship game at the Anaheim Convention Center on Feb. 28, Grable, a first-team All-Pacific Coast League selection, still showed up.
"I had nothing to do that Thursday," said Grable, who went with teammates Bo St. Geme, Kevin Manchester and Jeff Johnston and saw Damien defeat Santa Margarita, 54-40. "It was hard to watch because one of the guys who hit big shots against us wasn't doing much in the championship."
When Damien won its first section title, Grable said he congratulated the team. It was a sign of true sportsmanship.
One of the players, sophomore point guard Jeremy Hemsley, who burned CdM for 25 points and dished out eight assists in the semis, remembered Grable.
"He thanked us for coming out," said Grable, who last month joined Hemsley on another team, the All-CIF Southern Section Division 3AA squad on which Hemsley earned the Player of the Year award. "It was good to know that we lost to the eventual champions."
The following players are on this season's Dream Team.
Corona del Mar
The senior shooting guard turned into a prolific three-point shooter, knocking down 91, the second-best total in Orange County this season. Stone averaged 16.4 points and 2.9 threes per game and led the Sea Kings to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs, the program's first semis appearance since the 2006-07 season. He showed range from everywhere. His best single-game performance came at Beckman, where he hit eight of 15 three-point tries and finished with 30 points. Stone earned first-team All-Pacific Coast League recognition.
The senior guard brought intensity to the Sailors and lifted them to their first CIF Southern Section playoff win since the 2006-07 season. Sargeant averaged 15 points per game and made 58 three-pointers, nine short of Newport Harbor's single-season school record set by Dennis Heenan. He helped Newport Harbor close out the regular season with three straight Sunset League victories and receive an at-large berth into the Division 2A playoffs, the program's first postseason appearance in three seasons. Sargeant earned first-team All-Sunset League laurels.
The senior center elevated his play down the stretch for the Sailors. Rakestraw, a 7-footer, averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in the final six games of the season, which included a four-game winning streak. He produced 35 points, 26 rebounds and seven blocks in a CIF Southern Section Division 2A first-round playoff win at Riverside Patriot. He averaged 12 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, and set a Newport Harbor single-season school record for blocks (75). Rakestraw earned second-team All-Sunset League honors.
The junior guard led the area in scoring, averaging 17.1 per game. While only 5-foot-9 and 135 pounds, Mendoza could still light it up and he was efficient. He shot 86% from the free-throw line (65 for 76), 46% from the field (158 for 345) and 45% from behind the three-point line (63 for 141). He proved to be not only the best player at Estancia, but also one of the best in the area. Mendoza earned second-team All-Orange Coast League laurels.
The junior guard delivered the Mustangs' first sweep of Estancia in the Battle for the Bell rivalry series since the 2006-07 season. Hefner averaged 13.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game for Costa Mesa, which shared third place in the Orange Coast League and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs. In the two games against Estancia, Hefner averaged 17 points and the Mustangs claimed the Bell for the second straight season. Hefner earned first-team All-Orange Coast League laurels.