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The San Clemente boys basketball team celebrates their Sea View League Championship on February 7. Photo by Steve Breazeale
The San Clemente boys basketball team celebrates their Sea View League Championship on February 7. Photo by Steve Breazeale

By Steve Breazeale

The regular season has come to an end and every Tritons sports team qualified for the CIF-SS Championships. Here are a few storylines to follow for each team along with a recap of their recent games. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports for playoff game updates, news and more.

38 Years and No Longer Counting, Tritons Win League Title
The names of every single player who has worn a San Clemente boys basketball jersey over the past 38 years were taped to the walls of the team’s locker room before they took the court against visiting Trabuco Hills on February 7. It was a reminder that the first-place Tritons, who had to win in order to claim the Sea View League title outright, were playing not just for themselves, but for countless other Tritons who did not get to raise a banner in their historic gym since 1975.

Following a convincing 63-44 victory over the Mustangs those names were taken down from the wall in a locker room celebration. This San Clemente team had finally done it. They are now playoff bound.

“It’s a big monkey off our back as a program and for us it’s just been this process where we’ve worked so hard all year long for this moment and these kids deserve it…I’m so proud of everything we’ve done as a team,” San Clemente head coach Marc Popovich said. “It’s the most satisfying moment of my career.”

Things could not have gone better for the Tritons (16-10, 7-1 league), who came into the game needing a win. A Trabuco Hills victory would have meant San Clemente, the Mustangs (13-12, 5-3) and Dana Hills (19-7, 6-2) would have been in a three-way tie for first place. The Tritons did not let that scenario come close to manifesting itself.

San Clemente opened the first quarter with an 8-0 run and never let the Mustangs, who had a poor shooting night, get within more than six points the entire game.

At halftime the Tritons held a 29-16 advantage, thanks in part to sophomore Sam Darnold’s eight first-half points, senior Anthony Pinelli’s six and senior Jimmy Bankson’s five.

The second half saw the Tritons guards get aggressive on offense as senior Brock Eissman continuously drove through the lane and attacked the rim en route to eight total points. The Tritons reached the free throw line 12 times in the second half, scoring 17 points from the charity stripe alone. Their lead grew to 24 points near the end of the third quarter.

“We thought we had some driving lanes especially on the base line with (Eissman) and he did a great job of getting to the rim in the second half, getting fouled and getting layups…We thought we took too many outside shots in the first half.” Popovich said.

A good number of attendees at the game were not even born the last time the Tritons won a boys basketball league title. Now the team heads into the CIF-SS playoffs riding a three-game winning streak.

“I’ve been playing on this team for the last four years and this is such a great feeling,” Eissman said. “To think we are the only team in the last 38 years to win a league championship is mind blowing…those names (on the locker room walls) motivated us.”

Next Game: 2/15 vs. Capistrano Valley, at San Clemente High, 7 p.m. The Cougars earned an at-large berth out of the South Coast League and are coached by San Clemente alum Brian Mulligan.

Girls Basketball Stays Perfect
A perfect 8-0 record in South Coast League play secured the league title and a first round home playoff game for the San Clemente girls basketball team.

After their 70-45 win over Aliso Niguel on February 6 officially clinched them the title, the Tritons (18-5, 8-0) will now prepare for a February 16 home game against visiting Diamond Bar (15-12, 7-5). Diamond Bar finished third in the seven-team Hacienda league.

In their past seven games the Tritons’ defense has held opponents to under 50 points per game while averaging almost 58 points on offense. The team went 6-1 over that seven-game stretch.

An arrow in the Tritons’ defensive quiver has been their ability to steal the ball. As of February 14, the Tritons are averaging 13.3 steals per game and have recorded double-digits in steals in each of their last five games.

Next Game: 2/16 vs. Diamond Bar, at San Clemente High, 7 p.m. First Round CIF-SS Div. 1AA Championships

Tritons Boys Soccer Earns No. 1 Seed

Playing a tough non-league schedule, full of high-profile tournaments, and running the gauntlet of South Coast League play has paid off for the San Clemente boys soccer team, who enter the CIF-SS Division 1 Championships as a No. 1 seed.

The Tritons will wait to see who emerges from the wild card “A” match between Lakewood and Leuzinger, which was set to be played on February 13, to find out who their opponent will be. Results were not available at press time. The winner of the Lakewood/Leuzinger match will play the Tritons on February 15 at 5 p.m.

If the Tritons advance, they will play the winner of Harvard-Westlake vs. Dana Hills on February 20 in the second round.
Next Game: 2/15 vs. TBD, at San Clemente High, 5 p.m. First Round CIF-SS Div. 1 Championships

Wrestling Team Loses in CIF-SS Dual Meet Semis, Looks Ahead
The San Clemente wrestling team represented the South Coast League in the CIF-SS Dual Meet Division Wrestling Championship on February 9 at Los Alamitos High and lost to eventual champion Santiago in the semifinals. The Tritons were bested 52-30.

The season is not over for the Tritons, who will send 12 wrestlers to the CIF-Championships from February 16 through February 17. Christian Orpineda, Danny Garcia, Jacob Sandoval, Justin Kleinman, Tim Parten, John Castellini, Brian Degennaro, Rick Simpson, Mike Marshall, Ash Ryan, Austin Aceves and Tyler Maxwell will compete for the Tritons.

Girls Soccer Earns At-Large Berth in Playoffs

The San Clemente girls soccer team compiled a strong enough resume to earn an at-large bid to play in the CIF-SS Division 1 girls soccer championships. The Tritons (9-6-6, 2-3-3) earned an important 1-0 win over second-place Mission Viejo on February 4 to help boost their standings in-league and in the postseason considerations.

San Clemente will travel to play Upland, the Baseline League winner, on February 14 at 5 p.m. in the first round. If the Tritons advance, they will play the winner of Santa Margarita vs. Foothill in the second round.

Girl Water Polo Wins on the Road in First Round
After compiling a winning record in the competitive South Coast League, the San Clemente girls water polo team traveled to play Long Beach Poly in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 2 girls water polo championships on February 12 and came away with a 7-6 victory.

The game was all tied up at five goals apiece heading into the fourth quarter. San Clemente came through in the final minutes, scoring two goals to Long Beach Poly’s one, and advanced to the second round. Cassidy Smithson scored three goals, Makenna Smith had two while Brigette Kimbrough and Amber McCutcheon each had one in the win.

The Tritons will now travel to play Santa Margarita on February 14 at 5 p.m.

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