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By Steve Breazeale
It looked like the San Clemente boys basketball team would cruise to an easy CIF-SS Division 1AA first-round playoff victory over Fountain Valley on Feb. 17. But the Barons, who once trailed by as many as 19 points in the contest, would not go so easily.
Fountain Valley was able to mount a second-half push on the road against San Clemente, but the Tritons early lead was too much to overcome and the home team emerged with a 61-51 victory.
The Tritons (21-6) will travel to play Downey in the second round of the playoffs on Feb. 19. The game will be a re-match of last year’s Div. 1AA opening round, where the Tritons defeated Downey 54-43.
San Clemente led Fountain Valley 34-18 at the half thanks to a stout defensive effort. The Tritons held the Barons (15-13) to just two made field goals in the opening quarter. San Clemente’s full-court pressure defense baffled Fountain Valley in the first half and forced the Barons to make 11 turnovers.
But the Barons shooters began finding the bottom of the net in the third, led by the hot shooting of junior guard Mike Lightbody. Lightbody scored 11 points in the third quarter, knocking down three 3-pointers, which cut the Tritons lead to 49-36 heading to the fourth.
Lightbody made three more shots from beyond the arc in the fourth and Fountain Valley narrowed the gap to 58-51 with just under two minutes to go after a steal and coast-to-coast layup by junior Matt Serven.
Lightbody scored a game-high 29 points, 20 of which came in the second half.
“(Lightbody) got hot there on that stretch and that got a little too close for comfort but we held on,” San Clemente head coach Marc Popovich said. “We had hands in his face and he hit (shots).”
The Barons hot outside shooting was eventually stymied by the Tritons efforts on the boards in the fourth quarter. San Clemente’s Cole Fotheringham and James Paterson combined to pull in seven fourth-quarter rebounds, eliminating a majority of second-chance opportunities for Fountain Valley.
Fotheringham led the Tritons with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Paterson scored eight of his 12 points in the second half and pulled in 11 rebounds.
San Clemente senior Gage Shelmidine, who was a thorn in the Barons’ side defensively, filled up the stat sheet with seven points, six rebounds and four steals in the win. Shelmidine recorded three steals in the first 16 minutes.
The win over Fountain Valley was the Tritons’ 21st of the season, which set a new school record.