LAGUNA BEACH — It isn't often that a team gets to clear its bench during the CIF Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs.
That is exactly what was afforded the Laguna Beach Breakers Wednesday during their first-round game against Salesian of Los Angeles in the Division 4-AA playoffs. The Breakers led throughout the night and cruised to a 66-33 victory over the visiting Mustangs at Dugger Gym.
The win, the 12th straight for Laguna, puts the No. 9-seeded Breakers into Friday's second round. They'll go on the road to take on eighth-seeded Harvard Westlake which won, 77-46, at Templeton in another first-round game Wednesday.
Laguna, 22-6 overall, opened up a 29-21 halftime lead on Salesian, an at-large entry to the playoffs from the Santa Fe League, and never looked back.
"Salesian came out with a lot of energy and pressed, but we came out and played well, too," Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said. "Our thing tonight was to take care of the ball, and we pretty much did that. I don't think we played all that well defensively early on, but on offense, we got our transition game going and scored points on layups by beating their trap. I thought we passed the ball well tonight."
Laguna took complete control by scoring the first eight points of the second half. Senior guard Cole Kesler's three-pointer started the half, and junior post Noah Blanton completed the 8-0 surge with a dunk. It took the lead to 37-21 with just over three minutes gone in the half.
The Mustangs (13-15) went nearly four minutes into the half without a point. They only scored three points in the quarter, each coming from the free-throw line. Laguna ended the quarter by scoring the final five points. Kesler completed a three-point play and after Matt Jones missed from three-point range, the junior guard hustled to make a quick steal, then fed senior guard Jake Dalke for an easy layup with nine seconds left in the quarter.
The Breakers took a 42-24 lead into the fourth quarter and put the game out of reach with another 8-0 run to open up the quarter. Salesian didn't score its first basket of the second half until center Mario Lopez (15 points) scored on a short bank shot with 5:59 left in the game.
The Mustangs scored only 12 points in the second half and committed 15 turnovers in the game.
Blanton led all scorers with 20 points, which included three dunks. Kesler scored 19 and junior guard Alec Wulff scored 15.
"I think coach [Fleming] really got us into a passing mentality for the game," Kesler said. "Whenever we pass well and share the ball, when we get out running, that's when we're at our best."
Dalke, who had two points, set up several scores and finished with 11 assists.
"It was one of the best games Jake played all year," Fleming said. "He didn't score a lot but he passed the ball really well."
The winner of Friday's game between Laguna and Harvard Westlake advances to the Division 4-AA quarterfinals Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Laguna put the final touch on an undefeated run through Orange Coast League play on Feb. 7 and in the process, won its seventh consecutive championship after running away from visiting Costa Mesa, 62-33, on senior night.
The 70th meeting between the two teams wasn't close. Laguna jumped out to a 15-4 lead after the opening quarter, pushed the lead to 13 on three occasions early in the second quarter, and didn't let the Mustangs closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The Breakers put the game away with a 15-0 run that turned a 12-point lead into a 50-23 advantage with 1:11 left in the third quarter.
Wulff had a hot hand in the second half. He scored 14 of his game-high 16 points in the final 18 minutes and hit three three-pointers. Dalke contributed 14 points. Blanton, despite playing with an injured wrist, scored 11 points.
Junior post Josh Adams scored all of his 11 points in the first half. Senior guard Frank Shojaei came off the bench in the second half and scored four points. Kesler suffered a leg cramp early in the fourth quarter and left the game with 6:05 remaining. He finished with seven points.
Laguna leads the all-time series with the Mustangs, 49-21.
Fleming said the team goal was to go undefeated in league play. The Breakers did so by finishing 10-0.
"It was nice to get all the seniors on the floor [for senior night]," he said. "Our deal was that we wanted to look like champions, and finish like champions. I think we did that."
The 2012-13 Breakers set the all-time record for the margin of victory (25.2 points) per game in a 10-game league season, the largest in the 79-year history of the program. By going 10-0 against OCL competition, the Breakers became the first Laguna team since 1953 to finish league play 10-0. The 2009 squad went 8-0.
This year's Breakers became only the third undefeated league champion in program history. The program now has 14 league championships to its credit. Fleming, in his 18th year at the school, is 274-205 overall.