Paul Teetor

Seniors score on senior night

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by Paul Teetor

The Mira Costa boys basketball team put a stranglehold on the race for the Bay League title Tuesday night when it beat Palos Verdes 57-49 in yet another defensive slugfest in a season full of down-and-dirty battles.

The Mustangs now have a 7-0 league record thanks to senior shooting star Tyler “Ant Man” Antrobius, who led the way with 20 points; senior floor general Max McCalla, who chipped in with 10 points, 7 assists and the most important bucket of the night; and senior glue guy Matt Cammock, who set the gritty, hustling tone for a team that has to rely on its defensive intensity and kamikaze effort because it really doesn’t have any unstoppable offensive players.

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Costa has only three games remaining, all against league teams it has already beaten: Leuzinger Friday night at Da Vinci in El Segundo, at league doormat Compton Centennial next Tuesday, and then the regular season’s final game against arch-rival Redondo, again at Da Vinci, next Thursday.

For Mustang Head Coach Neal Perlmutter, who is on the verge of pulling off a feat that no one but he and his team thought possible in the pre-season prognostications — delivering Costa its first Bay League title in 20 years — the victory over PV was a three-bottle night.

In every game, there are three constants that you can count on with Perlmutter. First, he will dress in an all-black outfit, from his sneakers to his jeans and short-sleeved shirt; second, he will insist his players play fanatical defense and contest every pass, dive for every loose ball, and scrap for every rebound; and third, while he is micromanaging that suffocating defense, he will chug several tall bottles of smart water, bottles that he lines up next to the bench for his convenience. 

It was a three-bottle night because this was a victory that could have just as easily gone the other way — and Perlmutter knew it.

“We scrapped and fought and clawed our way to a win tonight,” he said moments after the final horn sounded at a roaring, jam-packed Manhattan Beach Middle School. “But that’s how we’ve had to play all year. We’re just a scrappy team that hates to lose.”

Everything appeared on track when Costa cruised to a 32-25 halftime lead.  Perlmutter’s 10-man rotation produced yet another unexpected big contributor off the bench. This time it was Jude Harris, the 6-foot-3 freshman power forward who shows every sign of becoming the kind of inside big-man presence this team needs if only he can be consistent in his effort and focus. Against PV he only scored two buckets, but they were both crucial to giving Costa its halftime lead and keeping a hard-charging PV team at bay.

“He made his layups when they were available, and he played good defense inside the post area,” Perlmutter said. “That’s what we need from him.”

But what looked like a routine game turned into a see-saw battle in the fourth quarter, which began with the Mustangs holding a 43-35 lead.

PV went on a 6-0 run to pull within 43-41. Then McCalla stepped up with two foul shots and a beautiful running flip shot to pull ahead 47-41. “That’s the most aggressive I’ve seen Max going to the basket-like that,” Perlmutter said. “He’s getting better and better at penetrating and making things happen for us.”

A couple of minutes later McCalla hit the biggest hoop of the night when he drove into the lane, stopped, whirled in the air, and threw in a baby sky-hook that found nothing but net and built the Mustang lead back up to 53-47.

From there it was all about hitting their foul shots while a desperate PV team committed foul after foul trying to knock the ball loose. Antrobius nailed four straight and the Costa seniors were one step closer to achieving their impossible dream: a Bay League title for a team that hadn’t previously come close during their four years in the Mustang program.

The Lady Mustangs, who also honored their seniors before the game, kept pace with the boys.They hammered PV 48-31 behind a 3-point barrage from senior sharpshooter Skylar Herdman and low-post domination by rebound warriors Kim Waller and Amanda Barba.

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