By Zach Cavanagh
LAS FLORES – As the Beckman press nearly evaporated a double-digit lead for the San Juan Hills boys basketball team, the Stallions got a clutch bucket and-one from its “go-to guy” to get back on track on Thursday, Dec. 22.
San Juan Hills led by as many as 15 points and held a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, but with its lead cut to three points with a minute remaining, Nathan Brosch scored the final three of his co-team-high 12 points to hold off Beckman, 56-49, in the North-South Challenge at Tesoro High School.
With additional wins by Aliso Niguel over Portola and Tesoro over Cypress, the South contingent took the 23rd annual event, 3-1. San Clemente fell to Foothill in the night cap.
“It was a big win for us. We needed that really bad,” San Juan Hills coach Jason Efstathiou said. “Against a good quality opponent too. It was important to us. Especially because we’ve had a couple games on our home floor where we did not look good. It was nice to hopefully get back on track a little bit.”
San Juan Hills (9-5) suffered two 26-point losses in its last three games, all in its home gym for the San Juan Invitational Shootout, including a 22-turnover performance against Los Alamitos.
After a feeling-out first quarter on Thursday, the Stallions outscored Beckman, 19-9, in the second quarter. The Stallions earned that game-high 15-point lead in that quarter by denying the Patriots easy buckets while capitalizing on their own opportunities.
“We needed that,” Efstathiou said. “We’ve been a defensive-minded team the last couple years. We had some spurts this year where we’ve played our defense, but lately we’ve been giving up a bunch. For us, this was huge because we know they can score a lot. This was hopefully a step in the right direction.”
Beckman came out with the full-court press to open the second half, and it immediately paid dividends. The Patriots cut the lead to four points early in the third quarter, and after San Juan Hills pushed back out to a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Beckman force several consecutive turnovers to bring the game within three points.
“I think our guys just started to not exactly follow what we’re supposed to do, and we’ve been seeing that a little bit with our team,” Efstathiou said. “We’ll have a game plan, and it’ll work for a little bit, and then, it’s almost like we can’t relax. These young guys we have now, it almost has to be stressful all the time. The moment we start to get a little comfortable, we make a bunch of mistakes.”
With the game threatening to turn on San Juan Hills, Brosch cut to the hoop, drew contact and scored to give the Stallions the basket and a free throw for a three-point play with one minute remaining. It was only Brosch’s second bucket of the second half, but it gave the Stallions the late advantage it needed to seal the deal.
“He’s been literally our go-to guy lately,” Efstathiou said. “He plays at such a high speed, and he’s been so confident. He’s just going and comes up with big plays game after game. Even when we’re struggling, he’s the guy we can count on time after time.”
San Juan Hills shut down Beckman on the next two possessions, each time forcing a turnover and hitting Luke Padilla on an outlet for two easy lay-ups to end the game. Padilla scored 10 points, and Mason Hodges, who did his best work in the paint in the first half, tied Brosch with 12 points.
San Juan Hills closes out its preseason tournament slate next week down south in the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic from Tuesday, Dec. 27, through Friday, Dec. 30.
The Stallions are then off until their South Coast League opener at San Clemente on Jan. 11.