RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – The Santa Margarita High boys’ basketball team continued their spectacular turnaround season on Tuesday June 1 by employing a surprising defense to slow Laguna Beach down in the CIF-SS 2AA quarterfinals.
The No.2 Eagles played a triangle and two for the first time this spring and it sparked a 42-34 win over the visiting Breakers in a duel of strong defenses and patient attacks.
Last season, Santa Margarita (15-5) missed the playoffs but will now host Rolling Hills Prep, winner 48-47 against Fountain Valley, in the semi-finals on Friday night.
“To be 100% transparent, I feel like not making the playoffs last year could have been the best thing for me as a coach,” said the second-year Eagles coach , Justin Williams-Bell. “Obviously you want to get there and when you don’t it gives you time to dig and dig deep to figure out what you need to do to improve yourself.
“For our program, we had some areas where we needed to improve. ”
Defense, Williams-Bell said, was one of those areas, so it was with a sense of pride that the Eagles won with their defense. Keeping the Surf League champion Breakers at their second lowest production this season, Santa Margarita has “kept face” ahead of Army-linked Nolan Naess and point guard William Rounaghi while forming a triangle, a zone of confrontation with a defender at the foul line and two at each block.
Naess nearly hit his average scoring a high of 19 points, but Santa Margarita’s Aldo Ruiz Ortiz had a key strip steal with 1:04 left in the fourth which led to a transitioning basket from Luke Turner for a lead 38-34 with 1:04 remaining.
The Eagles went 4 for 4 from the foul line the rest of the way and held Laguan Beach scoreless for the 2:09 final. Santa Margarita second-year forward Rockwell Reynolds blocked a late shot to add to a performance that included a rebound dunk in the second period.
“We just put it on yesterday,” Santa Margarita senior Coby Barnes said of the triangle-and-two. “We performed well for the first time. We just listened to our coaches. … It was a game-changer (by Ortiz).
Barnes mostly scored Naess but also produced in attack. He sank the second of two 3-pointers in the third period to give the Eagles a 28-20 lead. Jake Heberle paced Santa Margarita with 11 points off the bench, including six in the fourth.
“First and foremost, we’re a big defensive group and we like to share the ball on offense,” said Heberle, a junior. “This (playoff race) is definitely a new experience. I think we’re all trying to figure it out and really get a good feel for what the playoffs are like, but we’re extremely excited. ”
Forward Jackson Sirianni added nine rebounds and a block for Laguna Beach (16-4), who reached the quarter-finals despite playing without goalie Kai Gillies (wrist).
“Crossroads was a good win,” Naess said of the Breakers second round game. “We (also) played a good defense tonight.”