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By Steve Breazeale

With the game on the line and his team leading by one point, San Clemente junior forward Nick Crankshaw stepped to the line and knocked down back to back high pressure free throws to seal a 37-35 league opening win over San Juan Hills on January 15.

The Stallions (8-11, 0-2 league) had led for most of the Sea View League contest and had their own opportunity to tie the game up at the charity stripe seconds earlier, but junior Vincent McFadden missed his second attempt, setting the stage for Crankshaw’s decisive makes.

“I had no doubt Nick was going to knock down those free throws at the end. He’s so calm and steady. He’s the guy we want to get the ball to,” San Clemente head coach Marc Popovich said.

The game was a matchup of two different styles, which worked effectively for both teams for stretches.

San Juan Hills used their trademark zone defense and ate up the shot clock in their half court offense, slowing down the pace of the game and denying the Tritons from getting into a rhythm. While working the clock, the Stallions had five different players score points in the opening quarter to take an 11-3 lead.

San Clemente (10-8, 1-0) responded in the second with their signature style of play, which involves a full court pressure defense and an up tempo offense. Junior Sam Darnold scored seven points, by way of a 3-pointer and several fast break layups, to cut the lead to 16-12 at the half.

The 3-point shot was working for the Stallions in the opening 16 minutes and 12 of their 16 first-half points came from beyond the arc.

Led by Crankshaw, who was marking McFadden throughout the contest, the Tritons disrupted the flow of the Stallions offense with constant pressure in the second half, but turnovers on offense kept them out of striking distance.

After Tritons junior guard Elijah Morris hit a 3-pointer to cut San Juan Hills’ lead to one point, Crankshaw caused a loose ball on defense and pounced on it. He called time out and on the ensuing play, got to the paint and scored to give the Tritons their first lead with just under four minutes to play.

Back to back 3-pointers by Darnold and sophomore Gage Shelmidine padded the Tritons lead for good.

Although San Clemente is accustomed to scoring more points, their efforts down the stretch ensured their first foray into league play was a successful one.

“We wanted to be more aggressive with our half court and full court defense (in the second half). We were able to do that just not to the full extent that we wanted to do,” Popovich said. “San Juan Hills did a great job … We were just good enough in the second half to get out of here.”

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