Having won its first three games of the Irvine World News Tournament, the Laguna Beach High boys' basketball team made its way to one of the finals of the tournament Saturday.
The Breakers appeared to be on their way to the championship trophy by taking a 15-point halftime lead on El Toro, but the Chargers turned to their defense in the second half, and rallied to take the title with a 41-37 victory at Tustin High.
Laguna, which had a four-game win streak snapped, took a 29-14 halftime lead. El Toro, using a full-court press and half-court trap in the second half, held the Breakers to two third-quarter points, to close to within 31-28.
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Laguna Coach Bret Fleming said the press and trap "wore us down."
Despite falling behind late in the fourth quarter, the Breakers, down by two points in the final minute, missed from three-point range. They also committed a turnover and were forced to foul in the final 40 seconds.
Senior guard Noah Blanton topped Laguna in scoring with 14 points. Senior forward Josh Adams scored 12 points, and senior guard Alec Wulff had nine points.
El Toro is ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1A.
Laguna, ranked No. 10 in Division 4AA, advanced to Saturday's title game by disposing of San Clemente, 72-65, in a Dec. 20 semifinal game. Wulff, whom Fleming said had a "great game," topped the scoring with 31 points. Adams had 16 points, Blanton 11 points, and senior guard Bryan Ludloff, whom Fleming said played a "great tournament," scored 10 points.
Blanton and Wulff were named all-tournament.
The Breakers (8-3) open play Thursday at the 24th annual Torrey Pines Holiday Classic. They take on San Diego Francis Parker at 12:40 p.m. in Senators Division action at La Jolla Country Day School.
Francis Parker is ranked seventh in San Diego County.
The Torrey Pines Holiday Classic continues Friday and Saturday and concludes Monday.
The Breakers stormed to a 22-0 first-quarter lead Saturday at Sage Hill, and went on to cruise past the host Lightning, 57-12, in nonleague play.
Sophomore guard Jackie Cenan had 17 first-quarter points by converting a number of layups off of steals and rebounds from teammates who threw the ball ahead to her for multiple transition baskets.
Cenan finished with a game-high 23 points. Senior center Jane Wallin scored 13 points for the Breakers who received scoring throughout their lineup.
Since starting the season 0-3, Laguna has won seven of its last eight games to improve to 7-4.
"This is a good way to go into the MaxPreps tourney this week with some momentum," Laguna Coach Mark Lewis said.
The Breakers start the MaxPreps Holiday Classic at noon Thursday against Shadow Hills at Xavier Prep High. They play their second tourney game at 12:30 p.m. Friday against La Costa Canyon at College of the Desert.
The tournament continues Saturday and ends Monday.
Laguna last year won its division title at the tournament.
This year's tournament isn't dividing competing teams into specific divisions, Lewis said.
"Our work will certainly be cut out for us, but we have an opportunity to play against some good competition as well as teams from out of state," Lewis said of an event that includes teams from Washington state and Canada. "[We are] looking forward to competing well and having some good fun and team bonding in the desert."