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By Steve Breazeale
The San Clemente boys basketball team knew they needed to win their matchup on the road against San Juan Hills on February 5. A win would bring them one game closer to claiming a Sea View League title, a trophy no Tritons boys basketball team has claimed since 1975.
The Tritons relied on their full court pressure to get the job done and walked away with a 69-53 win over the Stallions, pulling them closer to their ultimate goal.
A decisive match against second place Trabuco Hills is now looming on the horizon.
The Tritons (16-10, 6-1 league) started off the game against San Juan Hills (7-20, 1-6) looking sluggish by their standards. An offense that is on an historic scoring pace (averaging just under 70 points per game) managed to score only 28 first half points.
The Tritons were threatening to pull away while building a 12-6 lead early in the first, but the streaky outside shooting of the Stallions pulled the home team back to within four with just over 40 seconds left in the quarter. Four of the Stallions six made shots in the first were from beyond the arc.
Things got tighter in the second, as San Juan Hills cut the Tritons lead to 23-20, but a dagger 3-point shot from Tritons sophomore forward Sam Darnold ended a 4-1 Stallions run and San Clemente closed out the half with a 28-24 advantage.
Full-court pressure defense has been a useful tool for the Tritons all season long and they stayed away from using it in the opening half. But as the third quarter got underway, the Tritons continuously hounded the Stallions backcourt.
“(San Juan Hills) played really well in the second quarter controlling the tempo so we knew we had to get that tempo going to our speed…that’s where we want to be,” San Clemente head coach Marc Popovich said.
The San Clemente defense forced the Stallions to turn the ball over and led to transition buckets for senior forward Jake Terkoski, who scored 12 points in the third quarter and recorded one steal. The Tritons outscored the Stallions 19-13 in the third quarter.
20 points separated the two teams midway through the fourth quarter as a result of a 10-0 Tritons run, which was highlighted by a no-look pass from senior Cody Bean to a cutting Anthony Pinelli that put San Clemente up 55-39.
The Tritons ended up scoring 41 points in the second half to claim their second win in a row. One more win would mean history.
“If we are going to finish things off Thursday (against Trabuco Hills) we are going to have to play a heck of a lot better,” Popovich said. “(Trabuco Hills) is playing to tie us for a league title and we’re playing to win one outright. There’s going to be a lot of emotion that night, it’s senior night…We’re going to be well prepared.”
San Clemente leading scorers: Sam Darnold, 20 points (Game High); Jake Terkoski, 14 ; Jimmy Bankson, 7.
San Juan Hills leading scorers: Brandon Toigo, 16 (Team High); Ben Goldman, 13