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By Steve Breazeale
With the outright South Coast League title on the line and a chance at making school history, the San Clemente boys basketball team caught fire late.
Trailing rival Dana Hills by five points at the midway point of the two team’s Feb. 11 matchup, San Clemente flipped the switch and routed the Dolphins over the final 16 minutes of play to secure a 59-46 victory.
San Clemente (20-6, 7-1 league) surged to its second consecutive outright league title and third league championship in four years behind an explosive 12-2 run in the third quarter. San Clemente forced six straight Dolphin turnovers to open the second half and cashed in on their opponents miscues.
The Tritons kept the pressure on in the fourth by knocking down dagger 3-point shots that stretched their lead. San Clemente outscored the Dolphins 34-16 over the final two quarters of play.
It was the 20th victory of the season for San Clemente, a mark that ties the school record.
After a league title drought that lingered over the program for decades, the league championships have been coming in bunches for head coach Marc Popovich’s team, which is bound for the CIF-SS playoffs next week.
“For a school that won one (league title) in 47 years, that’s a huge accomplishment for us. I’m so proud of our guys and for everyone that’s been a part of this. For how far we’ve come, it’s spectacular,” Popovich said.
San Clemente took its first lead of the second half when senior guard Gage Shelmidine stole the ball at midcourt and knocked down a jump shot to give the Tritons a 33-32 lead it would not let go of.
The Tritons lead grew to as many as 18 in the fourth quarter.
Senior forward Cole Fotheringham, who has been a member on three league championship squads, made his presence felt in the fourth quarter. Fotheringham scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth and pulled in five of his game-high 10 rebounds.
The Tritons prowess on the glass in the second half opened up their free-flowing transition offense, which led to three 3-pointers and easy layups. Senior Dillon Waikle made back-to-back 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter and Jake Cameron hit another on the Tritons next possession to push the lead to 46-32.