SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – The first season in the Orange Coast League for the St. Margaret’s boys basketball team resulted in a co-league championship, which in turn seemingly set the Tartans up for success with a No. 3 seed and a date with a wild-card opponent in the CIF-SS Division 4AA playoffs.
While visiting Eisenhower of Rialto was late to the court for warm-ups, the Eagles showed up on time for tip-off with an active defense and eight 3-pointers in the first half to lead by as many as 22 points in the third quarter and hold off a late Tartans charge, 68-64, in a first-round upset at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
“We had to adjust to speed and things of that nature,” St. Margaret’s coach Chris Nordstrom said of the first half performance. “That took a little while for sure, and we were a little passive offensively in the first half.”
While St. Margaret’s (21-8) wasn’t aggressive, Eisenhower (16-15) got huge performances from Stanley Thomas III with a game-high 22 points and Semaje Carter with 19 points, including four first-half 3-pointers.
“The difference was 11 (Carter),” Nordstrom said. “We have five films on him, and he’s 2-for-25 from three. He wasn’t tonight, so what do you do? That’s what happens in a playoff game, and someone steps up.”
After Eisenhower opened the second half with an 11-2 run for a 22-point lead, St. Margaret’s finally turned up the pressure with some aggressive drives by Russell Frye and big threes from TJ Pavia and Drew Bowman.
“We played more assertively. We decided to play,” Nordstrom said of the second half. “Once we did that, we were okay. We’ve had some moments like that in the season where we were a little passive, and that’s all it is.
Little by little, St. Margaret’s chipped away, as the Tartans forced steals, and Frye dictated the offensive pace. Frye scored 13 points for the Tartans, with a leading performance from Pavia’s 16 points and Caden Isola’s 14 points.
Eisenhower made just enough free throws down the stretch to keep St. Margaret’s at bay, as the Tartans couldn’t find that big shot to bring them all the way back.
Eisenhower defeated Muir of Pasadena, 62-49, in the wild card round on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and the Eagles advance to play Nordhoff of Ojai in the second round on Friday, Feb. 10.