After collecting victories in its first two Avocado West League games and sitting tied with Torrey Pines at the top of the league table, the La Costa Canyon boys’ basketball team and its longtime Head Coach Dave Cassaw have run into the mother of all storms. In eight days, the Mavericks have lost three games, (two in overtime) by a total of eight points. The most recent came Tuesday night, a hard-fought, 53-51, decision at San Marcos that both teams had a right to feel belonged to them.
But the story of San Marcos really started seven days earlier. On Jan. 21, the Mavericks appeared to have secured a big-time road victory at Carlsbad that would have made them 3-0. Leading by one with less than five seconds remaining against a team expected to challenge for the loop crown, they were dealt a dagger by the Lancers’ Jailen Nelson. The senior dribbled up the right sideline and launched a falling away prayer from just inside the half court stripe that found nothing but net…71-69 Carlsbad.
Two nights later on their home court against defending CIF Open Division champion and currently No. 7-ranked (MaxPreps) Torrey Pines, Cassaw’s charges owned a three-point edge with just seven seconds remaining and had a shooter at the line with a one-and-one. A lot of things would have to happen to make this one turn out wrong—they all did. The free throw was missed, Falcon guard Chris Howell was fouled shooting a three, he made all three free throws. Tie game, overtime, 68-63 Torrey Pines win.
That was the lead-up to Tuesday night’s trip to San Marcos where the Mavs hooked up with a talented team sporting the same 2-2 ledger and just as desperate to stay connected with the frontrunners in the league race.
Cassaw’s group came out ready. Volume-feeding seniors Tommy Griffitts and Charlie Schmitz inside, LCC took control early as the duo scored 23 of the team’s 25 first half points. They were still on top by four at intermission.
San Marcos, behind electric sophomore guard Devon Arlington’s 12 third quarter points, chipped away and tied the contest at 38 heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams played tentatively to open the final period and it was nearly three minutes in before point guard Ray Square put LCC ahead with his only points of the game (which would be a recurring theme) on a driving lay-up. It was almost two minutes later when Griffitts landed a soft one-hander from five feet to make it 42-38.
Senior Kasey Clouet cut the lead in half with his lone bucket of the game and Arlington converted a pair of free throws with 2:21 on the clock to knot it up again. With Square fouled out, junior Brandon Perry slid over to point guard and knocked down 1-of-2 free throws on the next possession. Knight junior Jeric Lovgren attacked the hoop for two, was fouled but missed the free throw. Perry countered with an inside make of his own, leaving the tally at 45-44 LCC with just 1:26 remaining.
Arlington reached the charity stripe again but made just 1-of-2, and with the clock reading 0:45 it was 45-all. La Costa Canyon held the ball to run down the clock, but Arlington made a steal and just missed a three-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer, sending the outcome to overtime.
In the extra period, San Marcos pulled ahead by three but a pair of Perry free throws pushed LCC to a 51-50 advantage with just under a minute to go. It would be the visitors’ last lead. The Knights found an improbable hero in lightly-used senior reserve Dylan Sandles. Out on the floor with the game on the line, he got his number called and drained a pure trey from the corner with 21 ticks showing. The Mavs had one chance to change the verdict and were able to get the ball underneath to Griffitts but he lost it in a physical exchange that ended matters at 53-51.
Cassaw, a classy veteran with four CIF championships on his resume, looked shell-shocked outside the locker room afterwards. “No, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said when asked if he’d gone through a similar multi-game stretch. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of these kids, though—they’ve bounced back every single time.”
Griffitts and Schmitz recorded 23 and 11 points respectively and Perry checked in with 12. Tossing in a team-high 30 points, Arlington literally handled 56% of the scoring for the winners. Next in line were Lovgren, who accounted for eight, and McCall with seven. LCC is now 2-3 in Avo West action while San Marcos is 3-2; both are 14-7 overall.
Cassaw’s post-game thoughts were centered on his players. “I hurt for them,” he said. “They could easily be 5-0 and leading this league. Now, we’re at the turn and that’s not the case.” In his 21st season at LCC, Cassaw, on more than one occasion has not been hesitant about saying how much he enjoys coaching this particular team and his message in the aftermath was about looking forward and getting better.
“The good news is we’re playing really well,” he said. “I told them they need to stay positive and understand that maybe some league dreams aren’t there anymore but if we’re playing well at the end of the season, we’ve got other things to play for.
“Hopefully, we can keep sharpening up as we go towards the playoffs—we have to clean up some things and work on some areas that will help us win these types of games,” he continued. “It was a tough loss, but we have to look in the mirror too—there are some things we’ve got to do better.”
In the San Marcos locker room, Head Coach Dante Carey was understandably upbeat. “We made an adjustment to our zone in the second half, tried to take away the hot spots that had been killing us, and it worked” said Carey. “Coming down the stretch in a game like this, it’s nice to have a player like Devon to be able to handle the ball, make decisions, create and make big shots.
“But this was a team win and speaking of “big shots,” having a guy like Dylan come in off the bench, be a little cold, run a play for him at the end and have him make that shot—that was huge.” Like his counterpart Cassaw, Carey is optimistic about his team’s future.
“We’ve played different guys, a lot of different lineups and our league is really tough,” posited Carey. “We haven’t played our best basketball yet and continue to get better every game. That’s awesome.”
Both sides start the second half of the Avocado West League Friday. La Costa Canyon will travel to Mission Hills and San Marcos will be at Canyon Crest.