Mustangs’ boys basketball team’s last game at Fisher is a heartbreaker
by Paul Teetor
If this was the last Mira Costa boys basketball game ever played in Fisher Gymnasium – and it probably was, since the cozy old cigar box of a gym is scheduled to be torn down sometime next fall – then it was a bittersweet way to go out.
Satisfying? No way.
There were so many frustrating what-ifs after Mira Costa’s thrilling-but-ultimately-heartbreaking 63-57 loss to Redondo in the season finale Thursday night that it was hard for Mustang fans to count them all.
What if their best player, junior guard Lucas Hobbs, hadn’t missed two late fourth quarter layups that looked like certain scores?
What if the referees had called what appeared to be obvious Redondo fouls on both those layups that left Hobbs writhing on the floor in pain and frustration while the flow of the game went in the opposite direction?
And what if Costa’s best shooter, senior guard Morgan Clark, hadn’t missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity near the end? Two successful foul shots would have pulled them within a point with just over a minute left.
And of course there was the biggest what-if of all: What if Mira Costa had actually won the game and finished with a 13-13 overall record. Then they would have qualified for the playoffs and had their season extended.
Instead the Mustangs finished 12-14 overall – 5-5 in the Bay League — and fell victim to the CIF rule that no team with a record under .500 or less than a third place finish in its league can make the playoffs.
“We played a rugged non-league schedule early in the season, and that came back to hurt us in the end,” Mira Costa Coach Jeff Amaral said after the game. “We’re a playoff quality team that didn’t make the playoffs.”
And Amaral said he wasn’t interested in talking about all the what-ifs that could have given the game to the Mustangs had the breaks gone their way. “I’d rather talk about our accomplishments tonight,” he said. “We spotted a very good team an 18-point lead and came all the way back to make it a one-possession game. We asked them to play hard for 32 minutes and they did exactly that. I’m very proud of the way our guys battled all night long.”
Indeed, it was a totally unexpected comeback that came out of nowhere but the team’s collective heart and determination. Redondo beat the Mustangs by 23 points two weeks ago and appeared on track to do it again when 6-foot-8 senior center Quinn Collins dribbled behind his back on a coast-to-coast drive and senior guard Kyle Carter followed that spectacular shot with a baseline drive that gave the Sea Hawks a 40-22 lead early in the third quarter.
But Hobbs, the Mustang’s junior guard who played on the Redondo varsity two years ago when it went all the way to the CIF Southern Section Finals, answered with a corner three-pointer that woke up a once-raucous home crowd that had begun to lose hope.
Hobbs drilled another trifecta, Clark drove hard down the lane and flipped up a scoop shot over the much taller Collins, Tommy Waller hit a three and suddenly the Mustangs had pulled within 48-37 at the end of the third quarter.
Junior guard Carson Carey kept the Mustang momentum going when he was fouled on a three-pointer and hit all three foul shots to cut the lead to 48-40. Redondo Coach Ali Parvaz rushed his starters back in, but Hobbs pulled up for a 10-foot jumper and now the lead was down to six, forcing a Redondo timeout with 3:57 left and the home crowd going crazy. A blowout had miraculously turned into a barn-burner right before their unsuspecting eyes.
Hobbs drilled yet another corner three to cut the lead to 50-45 and Sea Hawk star Zekiah LoVett answered with a trey of his own, but Clark nailed a three to cut the lead back to 53-48. Each long shot was drawing gasps from the crowd, and Lovett took it up a notch when he launched a high-arching 33-footer from near half-court that hit nothing but nylon.
But by now Costa was realizing it had a chance for a season-making upset, and junior center Henry Householter – who battled the taller Collins to a standstill all night – stuck back a Clark miss. Carey hit another three, cutting the lead to 56-53 with 1:43 left. The crowd was going nuts as Redondo called a timeout to catch its breath and figure out how to repel the now-possessed Mustangs.
Costa forced a miss and Clark raced down-court where he was fouled before taking a shot, giving him a one-and-one opportunity. But the normally automatic foul shooter missed the front end, and that was as close as the Mustangs got the rest of the way.
The entire crowd was standing for the last minute and a half of play, but an epic, legendary Mustang comeback and victory just wasn’t in the cards despite a monumental never-quit effort. Householter led the Mustangs with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Hobbs was right behind with 14 points. Collins led the Hawks with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while LoVett and Carter both chipped in with 14 points.
For Redondo, the victory clinched its sixth straight outright Bay League title – a loss would have made them co-titlists with Inglewood, which finished 8-2 – and provided some measure of redemption after getting blown out by Peninsula Tuesday night to suffer its first and only Bay League loss.
Redondo Coach Parvaz was guardedly optimistic about his team’s chances in the Division 1 playoffs. The Hawks will host Loyola Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
“You want to be playing your best basketball of the season when you enter the playoffs, and right now we aren’t playing our best basketball,” he said. “But we’ve got time to fix it before the playoffs start.”
At least Redondo is going to the playoffs. For the heartbroken Mustang players – several were openly crying as they left the locker room — there was nowhere to go but home.
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