All Ball Sports: Mira Costa football season ends, Luke’s back, and o’Crypt

Matt Kraskouskas scored four touchdowns and a two-point conversion against St. Pius X-St. Matthias.

Story by Paul Teetor

Photos by Ray Vidal

In the end, the Mira Costa football team simply ran out of miracles.

The Mustangs staged a furious late rally against St. Pius X-St. Matthias Friday night, wiping out most of an 18-point deficit at Waller Stadium. But they came up just short, to fall 46-43 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 semifinals.

The wild shoot-out loss ended their five-game winning streak and also ended their season with a 7-6 record.

“This was a tough physical loss, a tough psychological loss for all of us,” said star running back Matt Kraskouskas. “We had a five-game win streak going, and we were one game away from playing for a division championship and a ring. It was a brutal way to end the season. I’m just sorry our fans didn’t get to see us play in a championship game. They stuck with us all year, win or lose, and they deserved to have that experience. I’m sorry we let them down.”

Despite the end-of-season loss, the up-and-down 2021 football season will always be remembered by Costa fans as the year of the Great Comeback. That’s because they started the season with a 2-5 record and reached the nadir of what looked to be shaping up as a nightmare season six weeks ago when Palos Verdes put a 33-0 beatdown on them and left them for dead.

But the Mustangs never gave up on the season, won their last three regular season games to finish third in the Bay League, and then pulled off two major upsets in the playoffs, knocking off Garden Grove Pacifica and Alta Loma.

That set up Friday night’s showdown with yet another heavily favored team. St. Pius X-St. Matthias is a school in Downey, located in Southeast LA County and best known as the home of Karen and Richard Carpenter, the ‘70’s soft-rock group called, naturally enough, The Carpenters.

The Warriors came into Waller Stadium with a 10-2 record and a pattern of obliterating local South Bay teams. Consider: this year they had beaten South Torrance by 49-12, Gardena by 63-0, Bishop Montgomery by 54-3 and Santa Monica by 47-6.

So it wasn’t a shock when they immediately grabbed a 7-0 lead on a 93-yard touchdown pass from their prolific quarterback, Dieter Barr, to wide receiver Jordan Shaw.

The Mustang’s late-season resurgence was fueled by the emergence of Kraskouskas, a versatile power-runner with plenty of speed in his gas tank. He added a fuller dimension to a Mustang’s offense that earlier in the season had been overly reliant on the talented right arm of senior quarterback Casey Pavlick. 

So it was only fitting that Kraskouskas scored two consecutive touchdowns – first on a 25-yard run and then on a 10-yard run — to power yet another comeback in front of a roaring home crowd Friday night. Mid-way through the first quarter the Mustangs had suddenly grabbed a 14-7 lead. 

St. Pius X-St. Matthias stormed back behind Barr’s passing and took a 20-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. Amazingly, the second quarter was a duplicate of the first quarter. St. PiusX-St. Matthias outscored the Mustangs 20-14 yet again to lead 40-28 at halftime.

The third quarter was scoreless, but both offenses came alive again in the fourth quarter. The Warriors scored another touchdown when running back Nate Frazier showed blazing speed on his way to a 94-yard TD run. With an 18-point deficit, the discouraged home crowd was staring at the end of an incredible season.

The St. Pius defense recovered a fumble after a bad snap went over the head of Pavlick, taking possession with 8:22 left in the game and leading now by a whopping 18 points. However, Mira Costa once again refused to give in.

After stopping the Warriors on downs, Kraskouskas scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a 34-yard run to make it 46-35 with 6:49 left. Then the Warriors had a bad snap on a punt attempt and Mira Costa took over at the St. Pius 27-yard line.

Mustangs running back Dean Repetti scored on a 10-yard run and Kraskouskas powered his way in for a two-point conversion to make it 46-43 with 4:35 left in the game. Now Costa had all the momentum and enough time for one more miracle comeback. Or maybe even a field goal to send it into overtime.

But the Warriors didn’t fold under intense pressure from the Mustangs star linebacker Brett McCalla and the rest of his defensive teammates. The Warriors ran the clock down, and in the end Frazier got a key third-down conversion with 1:15 left to seal the win.

Two days after their season ended, Kraskouskas said the team took a lot of pride in not quitting on the season and fighting their way into the playoffs – they had to win the annual rivalry game with Redondo just to qualify for the playoffs – and then advancing to within one game of the championship game.

“We got better and better once we hit rock bottom against PV,” he said. “I just wish we could have pulled out this game. We came so close. Casey was great, Brett and his guys were great on defense. And I have to take some of the blame for this loss because of my two fumbles in the third quarter.”

What Kraskouskas didn’t mention was his incredible stat line for the game: 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion on the ground.

Indeed, turnovers were a big factor in this loss for Mira Costa. In addition to Kraskouskas’ two fumbles, Pavlick lost two fumbles and had one interception. Still, he finished with 306 passing yards and one TD while connecting on 18 of his 27 pass attempts. He did his job well enough to win the game. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Kraskouskas grew up in Hermosa Beach, where he attended the Hermosa View and Hermosa Valley schools before enrolling at Mira Costa. He missed all of last season when he transferred to a Tennessee high school where he played football after it looked like the pandemic had wiped out what would be his sophomore season.

But he came back to Costa last summer for his junior year, and once he was unleashed he, along with Pavlick and wide receiver Cole Crotty, fueled the Mira Costa five-game win streak that was almost extended to six games Friday night.

The final stats on Kraskouskas’ breakout season: he scored 17 TD’s and racked up more than 1,500 yards. The Mustangs football future looks bright as long as he returns for his senior season.      

Asked if he was going to come back to Costa for his senior season, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Kraskouskas sounded slightly less than fully committed. It’s understandable. With all the athletic transfers that now routinely take place, big-time schools are bound to come calling to see if he wants to join them.

“As of right now I plan to stay at Costa, but I need to talk to Coach Morrow first,” he said. “Then it will depend on what he says.”

Mustang fans have to hope Morrow can find the magic words that will bring his latest and brightest star back for another shot at a championship. 

Luke Walton is coming home to Manhattan Beach

Luke Walton wasn’t born or raised in Manhattan Beach. But it has been his home for the last 18 years, and now he’s coming home after being fired Sunday as Head Coach of the Sacramento Kings just a month into the new season.

A few years ago, former NBA star Richard Jefferson revealed that he and his friends often refer to Walton as “the luckiest man in the world.” It’s the kind of thing you can say about one of your best friends because everyone knows there’s no malice intended, and no offense taken.

It started when they were teammates at Arizona more than 20 years ago. Jefferson was the star and Walton was the glue guy, a pretty good player who knew his role and played it so well that he was twice chosen for the All-Pac 10 team. 

The origin of the name was the wide-spread perception that as the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, Luke had a head start in his hoops journey. Throw in his model-next-door looks and a deep bass voice that helped him develop his chick magnet image, and Walton seemed to be the kind of guy who just naturally got all the breaks. Locals still remember him driving around El Porto with hot girls in the front seat and his surfboard hanging out the back of his battered old convertible, living the rich young bachelor life in paradise.

And the luckiest man pattern continued in 2003 when he was drafted by the Lakers early in the second round and survived on the roster for10 years, even though he never seemed to be an NBA-level athlete or a good shooter. In his best season of 2006-07, he averaged 11 points, five boards and four assists. For his career he averaged 4.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Critics abounded, with some whispering that a black guy with the same set of below-average skills would quickly wash out of the league. But the Lakers and their media minions countered that his elite passing skills and cerebral approach to the game were too valuable to let go. All of which seemed to presage his inevitable move into coaching.

Sure enough, once he was done playing, he had a short stint in college coaching before ending up as an assistant on the staff of Golden State Coach Steve Kerr. Two years later in 2015-16 he became the interim head coach while Kerr sat out most of the season while undergoing back surgery and rehab. Walton led the team to a 24-0 start, the best in league history, before Kerr came back late in the regular season.

By the end of that season, he was the hottest coaching prospect in the league, and soon signed a deal with the Lakers to replace Byron Scott.  But the Lakers went 98-148 in his three seasons and missed the playoffs each year. At the end of the third year he and the Lakers “mutually agreed to part ways.” The reality was a little harsher: LeBron James wanted him gone, and what LeBron wants LeBron usually gets.

In keeping with the luckiest man alive theme, just two days after leaving the Lakers he was hired by the Kings as their new head coach. But at 68-93 his record with the Kings was almost as bad as his record with the Lakers. And when they started 6-11 this season he had the dubious distinction of being the first coach fired during the six-month-long season — but he surely won’t be the last.    

In retrospect, Walton’s long streak of good luck ran out the night of the 2018 NBA draft, even before he took the Sacramento job. That night the Kings and General Manager Vlade Divac – who had been teammates with Walton back in 2006 and hired him in 2019 – made a bad decision that ultimately cost both of them their jobs.

That was the night Divac decided to draft big man Marvin Bagley out of Duke with the second pick in the draft while passing on point guard Luka Doncic, the European teenager hyped as the best player to come out of Europe since Dallas Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki.

The pick was especially puzzling because Divac and Doncic both came from eastern Europe and Doncic had spent a week with Divac before the draft. At that point, all the hoops pundits expected Sacramento to take Doncic. Divac has never explained his reasoning for taking the 6-11 Bagley instead, although team insiders snitched that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, a know-it-all tech billionaire who has presided over the downfall of the once powerful Kings, forced Divac to do it against his will and better judgment.

Nearly four years later, the results have been catastrophic for the Kings and Walton: Doncic is a genuine superstar, the best young player in the NBA. Bagley? He started out okay, making the All-Rookie team. The Kings? They’ve missed the playoffs for the last 15 years and counting.

And it’s been all downhill for Bagley since his rookie year. Chronic injuries, a bad attitude and technical difficulties with his shot all conspired to force Walton to take him out of the rotation completely and place him on the end of the bench. That demotion led to both him and his agent screaming bloody murder and complaining bitterly about his treatment. In the process his once-high trade value as a former number two overall pick has been reduced to practically nothing.

Somebody had to pay for this debacle, and since Ranadive won’t fire himself and Divac was already fired last year, Walton’s luck finally ran out.

Welcome home, Luke.

See you on the beach. 

Tales from the Crypt: a Killer Name Change

Don’t the geniuses who came up with Crypto.com Arena think ahead at all? Are they incapable of looking around corners?

These corporate types in their skinny suits and $500 Italian loafers just don’t get it: you can make a naming rights deal for $700 million over 20 years, but you can’t force the fans to use the corporate name no matter how many times their media flacks repeat it.

Exhibit A: the newly named Crypto.com Arena is already commonly known as The Crypt – just days after the new name was announced last Wednesday!

How long will it be before some hack sports writer declares that the Lakers came back from the dead in the Crypt?

Not long.

It’s not that anyone is lamenting the loss of the name Staples Center. Who cares about an office supply company named after a bendy piece of metal that holds papers together? 

No one All Ball knows.

But the Staples Center is the place where Kobe and Shaq won a three-peat, where Kobe and Pau won two titles in three years, and where Chris Paul and Blake Griffin choked away their two best shots at an NBA title. That’s where memories were made.

And besides the sentimental Staples Center memories, it also flows off the tongue a lot more smoothly than Crypto.com Arena.

If you think the fans are going to embrace the new name just because the Singapore-based currency exchange wants them to, just look around the country at how fans have insisted on hanging their own nicknames on the athletic venues they go to despite their corporate overlords trying to dictate the names.

In Washington, D.C. fans call the Capital One Arena the Vault.

In New Orleans fans call the Smoothie King Center The Blender. (That’s All Ball’s personal favorite.)

In Brooklyn, fans call the Barclays Center the Ballers Paradise – at least until anti-vaxxer Kyrie Irving was banished from the team. Now it’s Paradise Lost. 

In Cleveland Cavaliers fans call the Rocket Mortgage Field House the Q.

In Chicago, Bulls fans call the United Center the UC, so at least it’s not a complete loss for the corporate types.

In Boston fans call the TD Garden the Boston Garden because their greatest teams always played in the Boston Garden and always will, no matter what its bought-and-sold name currently is.

In Minneapolis Timberwolves fans call The Target Center the Den.

Likewise in Charlotte the Spectrum Center is called the Hive because that’s where the Hornets play.

And in Oklahoma City the Paycom Arena is called the Thunder Dome because that’s where the Thunder play.

So Good Luck to the corporate crypto clowns who made this naming rights deal. They’ll never learn that a name is not for sale.

It has to bubble up from the people at the bottom: the customers. 

Not handed down from the top.

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com. Follow: @paulteetor.  ER               

 

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