By being able to survive some frantic final moments Wednesday, the Laguna Beach High boys' basketball team was able to continue unscathed in Orange Coast League competition.
Laguna went on the road to Costa Mesa, a place where the Breakers generally find all they can handle against the Mustangs. Such was the case again Wednesday, but, like previous trips, the Breakers found a way to emerge victorious.
Laguna survived nine missed free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, 11 three-pointers by the Mustangs, and turned to its defense in the closing seconds, to hold on for a 52-51 victory. The win capped a 5-0 run in the first half of league play and kept the defending champion Breakers alone in first place.
Ranked No. 11 in CIF Southern Section Division 4-AA, the Breakers improved to 16-6 overall.
"I don't think we've ever played real great there [at Costa Mesa]," Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said. "But we came out and played real well in this game, but then didn't play very well after that. We survived it."
Laguna got off to a comfortable start. The Breakers jumped out to an 11-0 lead and led, 17-5, after the first quarter. They had their lead trimmed to 24-20 by the half and maintained that four-point lead (38-34) heading into the fourth quarter.
"We struggled from the field," Fleming said. "We missed some 'chippies' and we were only 14 of 27 from the free-throw line."
The foul line nearly did in the Breakers in the fourth quarter. They missed nine-straight attempts including their final four. Three of the misses came on the front end of one-and-one situations.
Costa Mesa (2-3 in league) got the ball back after Laguna missed its final two attempts, and called timeout with 11 seconds left. After the Mustangs inbounded the ball, a pair of Breakers double-teamed guard Sean Comer, who had hit three three-pointers and tied teammate Kyle Hefner for game scoring honors with 21 points, and the Mustangs weren't able to get off a final shot before time expired.
Senior guard Cole Kesler led Laguna in scoring with 17 points. Senior guard Jake Dalke and junior post Josh Adams both scored 13 points.
The win kept Laguna a game ahead of Godinez (4-1) in the league standings. On Jan. 18, the Breakers handed the Grizzlies their first league defeat, 48-24. Junior guard Alec Wulff, in his first game back from an ankle injury, and junior post Noah Blanton both scored 15 points. Wulff got his 15 by going five for five from three-point range. Adams added 10 points.
The Grizzlies keyed on Kesler (two points) and Dalke (three points) in the game.
"Alec [Wulff] played a great game against Godinez," Fleming said. "I think all of our kids played hard and with a lot of intensity, and we really did a great job defensively. [Godinez] paid a lot of attention to stopping Cole [Kesler] and Jake [Dalke], and I thought Alec, Noah [Blanton] and Josh [Adams] really stepped up and played well."
Laguna starts the second half of league play at 7 p.m. Friday, hosting Estancia at Dugger Gym. After that, the Breakers go on the road for three consecutive league games beginning with a 7 p.m. game Wednesday at Saddleback. They play Feb. 1 at Godinez.
Fleming is pleased to be 5-0 at this point in the league race, but knows the possible pitfalls that could await his team.
"I think the Costa Mesa game showed us that on any given night, we can get beat," he said. "I hope this game shows the kids that they need to be ready to play all four quarters, because we are going to get everybody's best shot in the second round. We have some tough games coming up."
Friday: Estancia, 7 p.m.
Wednesday: at Saddleback, 7 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Godinez, 7 p.m.