RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA -- They may have finished in fifth place in the Trinity League, but Santa Margarita continued to roll in the Southern Section Division 3A boys’ basketball playoffs.
The fourth-seeded Eagles didn’t just advance to the semifinals with a 61-51 quarterfinal victory over Corona del Mar, but they knocked out the team that a year earlier had upset them in the first round, 64-40.
Revenge was an ample motivator, said Wolfie Wood, who scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as Santa Margarita held off the Sea Kings, who cut a 20-point lead to as few as eight points.
Santa Margarita (17-13) now has the tall task of playing at top-seeded Mission Hills Alemany (26-4), which defeated La Puente Bishop Amat, 68-37, on Friday.
No matter what happens in the future, Tuesday marked the final home game in Jerry DeBusk’s 20-year coaching career at Santa Margarita Catholic.
“I felt like it was good for him, and good for the seniors, because it’s kind of us four bonding,” Wood said of himself, Connor Pope, Evan Edwards and DeBusk. “We know it’s the seniors and Coach DeBusk’s last game, so it was good for us to win this for him, and go out on a high note.”
DeBusk said his team won the game in the first half on the offensive boards, where Ryan Merritt, Tyler Strauss, Joe Furstinger and Johnny Stanton put back misses that salvaged possessions.
Merritt scored 11 and Strauss nine for the Eagles, who outscored Corona del Mar 15-3 in the second quarter. Max Stone, who hit four three-point baskets, led CdM with 17 points.
“I thought Wolfie Wood stepped it up from the beginning of the fourth quarter on, his quickness, being able to make free throws,” DeBusk said of his key senior.
Wood said that coming from the Trinity League, that was to be expected.
“We knew they were going to make a run eventually in the second half, and they made their run, but I felt we weathered the storm very well,” he said. “They made a couple of threes, made a couple shots, and we found a way to weather that and keep it calm and under control. We’ve been in close games like that all throughout league against the best teams, so it wasn’t anything new for us to be in a clutch situation like that.”
DeBusk said he had spent the last couple of days reminding his players of last year's first-round playoff exit to Corona del Mar, a game it trailed 35-11 at halftime.
"So besides being a quarterfinal CIF game, there was a little extra emphasis on revenge -- getting back for last year," DeBusk said. "We weren’t happy with the way we played."
That wasn't the case Tuesday.