One of the improbable storylines of the Southern Section playoffs turned another page on Friday night.
Santa Margarita Catholic, the winless team from the Trinity League, took out the top-seeded team in the Division 3AA playoffs to advance to the championship game.
The fifth-seeded Eagles scored a 65-59 victory over Lawndale Leuzinger before a home crowd that saw Joe Furstinger score eight of his 22 points after leaping into the air to block a shot and flipping over the top of Treyvion Anderson—and landing on his head.
The scary moment—with 5 minutes 22 seconds left in the third quarter—was punctuated when the Eagles turned the ball over on their next two possessions while trying to pass to Furstinger's replacement, Riley Sorenson. The turnovers led to a seven-point run that gave Leuzinger its first lead, 37-35, since making its first field goal of the game.
But Furstinger, who remarkably missed only 63 seconds of game time, had reentered. And after Anderson's three-pointer for the Leuzinger lead, Furstinger answered with a three-point play 21 seconds later.
He also added a three-point play to open the fourth quarter and cap an 8-0 run over an 87-second span that turned a deficit into a 46-39 lead.
Leuzinger, behind Anderson's 26 points, would cut a 52-43 deficit with 3:35 remaining to 58-55 with 1:33 to go. The Eagles made five of seven free throws from that point on, and made 12 of 16 in the fourth quarter.
"They're dynamic and can run off 10 in a row," said first-year coach Jeff Reinert of Leuzinger. "We just scored enough."
Because of the Olympians' propensity for three-point baskets, they were hardly ever more than two possessions from the lead, but they made only nine of 33 three-point attempts.
Yet Furstinger, a 6-foot-8 junior who had a big game inside against the undersized Olympians, was hardly the whole story.
Junior Devonte Klines was strong on both ends of the floor and finished with nine points. Senior Tyler Strauss scored 11, and against the three-point happy Olympians knocked down back-to-back three-point baskets that began an 11-2 run to close the first quarter and give the Eagles a 16-7 lead.
"We took care of the ball and did our best to keep them in front of us," Reinert said. "And we rebounded just enough to get it done."
Getting it done is what it has been about in the playoffs. Santa Margarita (16-14) did not win a game in the Trinity League, but have has shown just how tough the league is by flexing its muscle in the playoffs.
"This means a lot to me," Klines said of the remarkable season. "We got our heads straight, we stayed focused and kept fighting through the ups and downs.
"Especially the downs."
In the other Division 3AA semifinal
(2) La Verne Damien 61, (3) Corona del Mar 53—The Sea Kings (21-10) were in hole for most of the game and trailed at home by 14 points, 50-36, with about five minutes remaining. They launched a furious rally to close and pulled to within three points, 56-53, with 21 seconds remaining. The deficit was too great, and Corona del Mar’s championship dream ended with a few free throws and a steal and slam dunk by Damien, an all-boys Catholic school. Blake Grable, who made three three-point baskets but missed one in the closing seconds, scored a team-high 23 points. Bo St. Geme and Blake Flamson added nine and eight points respectively, in the losing effort.
Division 1AA, quarterfinals
(12) Inglewood 64, (4) Mission Viejo 61—The deeper into the playoffs you get, the tougher it is to win on the road. Mission Viejo (26-4), despite being favored, got stung at Inglewood and missed the opportunity to return to a championship game; the Diablos reached the 1A finals last season. A couple of key turnovers in the final minutes—among the seven in the fourth quarter—hurt Mission, as did the inability to get the ball into Evan Zeller’s hands with the clock ticking down. A three-point shot at the buzzer missed, and the run for the section title was over. Zeller scored 15 but did not score after taking a 52-47 lead into the fourth quarter; the Diablos led at one point, 50-36. Inglewood (19-9) on Tuesday will play a semifinal at top-seeded Mater Dei, a 56-40 winner over ninth-seeded Moreno Valley Rancho Verde. In the other games, sixth-seeded Etiwanda defeated 14th-seeded Silverado, 43-28, and second-seeded Long Beach Poly beat seventh-seeded L.A. Loyola, 75-69.
Division 1A quarterfinals
(1) El Toro 70, (9) Corona Santiago 64—A big second quarter gave the Chargers the breathing room they needed to choke off Santiago’s upset hopes. Tied after one quarter, El Toro outscored the Sharks, 27-16, in the second. Playing at Santiago, the home team pulled to within four points with about six minutes remaining, but a 7-0 run coming out of a timeout created some distance. The Chargers were led by Ryan Roberts, who scored a game-high 18, including three three-point baskets. Liam Skelly added 13 points, and Jake Lunardi and Tanner Aguera scored 11 apiece. Like Roberts, Aguera made three three-pointers. Cody White, who missed the last game because of a suspension—he received two technical fouls in the first-round playoff game—had seven rebounds and seven points which, coincidentally, provided the margin of victory. The Chargers on Tuesday will play host to fourth-seeded La Crescenta Crescenta Valley in a semifinal. Crescenta Valley defeated 12th-seeded Millikan, 68-54.
(6) Dana Hills 61, (3) Santa Clarita West Ranch 59—The Dolphins (23-7) fashioned a 20-10 scoring advantage in the third quarter into a quarterfinal victory and their first ever trip to the semifinals. They trailed 29-27 at halftime, and the third quarter was the only eight-minute period in which Dana Hills outscored the favored Wildcats. They even built a 12-point lead in the final eight minutes before weathering the storm. Cory Blau paced the way in the historic victory with 17 points. Hayden Fredrick and James Taylor scored 11 each for the Dolphins, Jack Sheffield 10 and Jack Clendenen nine. Dana Hills will play at Santa Monica on Tuesday.
(2) Santa Monica 75, (7) Aliso Niguel 63—The Wolverines (21-10) got 20 points from Scott Lynds and 11 from Ronnie Harris, but they didn’t have enough firepower—or defense—to continue their run of upsets and take down the favored Vikings (23-6). Despite playing at home, Aliso was outscored in the first and third quarters, 46-27.
Division 2A, quarterfinals
(5) Tesoro 64, (13) Goleta Dos Pueblos 50—The Titans (21-9) reached qualified for the semifinals for the first time since 2009 by winning at home. Tesoro got 20 points from John Jenkins and 14 from Conrad Snyder, who was in the lineup despite the death of his mother on Saturday. The Titans led by one point going into the fourth quarter, 40-39, before breaking away over the final eight minutes. Austin Channer and Tanner Lancona, who had 13 rebounds, scored 11 each. The Titans will play at top-seeded Westlake Village Westlake, an 82-33 winner over eighth-seeded Beaumont. In the other quarterfinal games, 11th-seeded Arroyo Grande won at home to upset third-seeded Anaheim Canyon, 53-51, and second-seeded Redondo Union defeated 10th-seeded Glendora, 55-41.