Bret Fleming saw his Laguna Beach High boys' basketball team go through a learning and growing process the first month of the season.
The Breakers won 11 of their first 17 games, although Fleming would like to have a placed a few more of those outcomes in the win column. His squad ended the nonleague portion of their schedule Saturday at the Estancia Coast Christmas Classic, and came up with a third-place finish.
Laguna concluded the tournament with an impressive, 67-60 victory over Corona in the third-place game.
The Panthers were 12-1 entering the game.
The Breakers started the tournament with wins against Newport Harbor (59-45) and Laguna Hills (60-43). In the semifinals, they were outscored, 37-29, in the second half of a Saturday game against Clovis West, and lost, 62-57.
"I thought we played pretty well in the first two games against Newport and Laguna Hills, but we didn't quite step up to the challenge against Clovis West," Fleming said. "I thought we should have beaten them but we couldn't get over the hump down the stretch and didn't respond to their defensive play.
"I was really pleased with our win against Corona. That was a nice bounce-back win for us. I thought the kids came back with a different perspective from the Clovis West game, and Noah Blanton had an outstanding game."
The junior forward scored his tournament-best 20 points against Corona. He had scored 21 points in three previous tournament games, with a high of nine against Newport Harbor.
"Noah really responded to the challenge after the Clovis West game," Fleming said. "He was a lot more aggressive offensively, he took the ball to the rim, was able to get to the foul line, and hit the boards. He played a great game."
Senior guard Cole Kesler scored 21 points for the Breakers against Corona. Junior guard Alec Wulff scored 12 points, junior guard Josh Adams had eight points, and senior forward Jake Dalke had six points.
Kesler was named to the all-tournament team.
"Cole played really well in the tournament and has been pretty consistent for us all year," Fleming said.
"I'm hoping we learned a lot during preseason. I think the kids would agree with me, that we should have about three or four more wins under out belt. We lost to some teams we just got out-worked by. I hope that the lesson we learned during preseason is that no matter who we are playing, it's all about our effort, our intensity, and doing what we need to do to win."
Next up for Laguna is the start of the Orange Coast League season. The Breakers, who have won the league title six straight years, open at home against Saddleback at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Dugger Gym.
"For us, league is kind of like walking through a minefield," Fleming said. "We definitely will be the team that is hunted and we'll go up other team's best efforts. We just need to be ready to play every night."
Wednesday : Saddleback, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11: at Estancia, 7 p.m.
Jan. 16: Calvary Chapel, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18: Godinez, 7 p.m.
Jan. 23: at Costa Mesa, 7 p.m.
Jan. 25: Estancia, 7 p.m.
Jan. 30: at Saddleback, 7 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Godinez, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5: at Calvary Chapel, 7 p.m.
Feb. 7: Costa Mesa, 7 p.m.