By Zach Cavanagh
LAKE FOREST – Another slow start forced San Clemente boys basketball to wait until Sunday for a potential playoff berth.
El Toro led by 13 points after the first quarter and by 29 points after the third quarter to beat San Clemente, 68-59, and clinch the final guaranteed playoff berth from the South Coast League in third place at El Toro High on Thursday.
“Apparently, I give the worst pregame speeches in America the last two weeks,” San Clemente coach Marc Popovich said on the recent slow starts. “I don’t have an answer for you. I really don’t.”
San Clemente (17-10, 3-5) and El Toro (13-15, 4-4) came into the game tied for third place in the South Coast League. El Toro would have been ineligible for at-large selection with a sub-.500 record if it had lost, but the Chargers got the win they needed.
San Clemente will have to wait until the CIF-SS playoff brackets are released on Sunday to see if it earned an at-large bid in Division 2AA, but the Tritons are likely to be selected despite the loss.
“Yeah, we’re going to be in,” Popovich said. “That’s not an issue.”
The Tritons dug themselves into another early hole in the first quarter, but San Clemente wasn’t nearly as out of sync as it had been in previous losses.
“We had lay-ups. It wasn’t like we didn’t get good looks,” Popovich said. “Normally, you’ll see me take a quick timeout, but I didn’t because we weren’t getting good looks. They just weren’t going in.”
On the other side, El Toro was equally and oppositely effective.
The Chargers opened with the game’s first nine points before getting out in transition to extend their lead.
“Turnovers killed us,” Popovich said. “That end of the first through the middle of the second, we just turned the ball over too many times to too good of a team.”
The trends continued through the third quarter as El Toro led by 19 points at halftime and by 29 points after the third quarter.
El Toro was stuck on 67 points for more than a few minutes at end of the game as San Clemente charged back to cut the lead all the way to eight points, but time ran out on the Tritons.
Jacob Nemeth led San Clemente with 17 points on five 3-pointers.
Demetrius Jackson scored a game-high 26 points for El Toro.
The CIF-SS playoff brackets will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. on www.cifss.org.