It was unlike anything any of them had ever experienced before. Never had they known such frustration, such anguish, such a bad shooting touch.
For more than 13 minutes in their Southern Section Division 1A Championship on Saturday, El Toro failed to make a field goal.
They went from having a first quarter lead to trailing by 17 points.
And as deficits go against second-seeded Santa Monica, the hole the Chargers found themselves in might as well have been the Grand Canyon.
El Toro showed its mettle by making the Vikings sweat a bit in the fourth quarter, but in the end there was no title, only a 66-56 defeat at Anaheim Convention Center Arena.
El Toro (27-6) had been to the finals twice before, in 2001 and 2005, and this game ended with the same result. A loss.
The 10-point margin of victory was the closest in the playoffs for Santa Monica (24-6), which got 17 points from Trevis Jackson and 13 from California-bound Jordan Mathews.
“Obviously had a tough first half, “ said El Toro coach Todd Dixon, whose team shared the South Coast League title with Mission Viejo. “First half we struggled but in the second half we battled and the kids showed their true character there.
“We’re a three-point shooting team but playing in an arena I was hoping it wouldn’t affect us … but I give a lot of credit to our guys for battling as much as they could.”
The numbers told the story. El Toro made only two of 24 shots from the three-point arc, and didn’t make its first until 6:32 remained in the game.
The Chargers made three of their first four shots in the game, then missed their next 18 in a row. Their 8-6 lead—on three buckets by Cody White and two free throws by Ryan Roberts—transformed into a huge deficit. They were tied after one quarter, 8-8, but down 28-13 at halftime.
“I’ve never seen my team miss that many shots,” said junior George Buaku, who scored a team-high 12 and was the team’s emotional leader against the Vikings.
“It was extremely frustrating,” White added. “We were getting good shots … but playing in a different atmosphere.”
The arena backdrop behind the basket got most of the blame for the Chargers’ struggles. White finished with 11 points, as did Sean Harman. Of El Toro’s 56 points, 26 came from its 33 attempts from the free throw line.
The Chargers were 14 of 46 from the field overall, and were outrebounded, 44-26, and of those 26, only five came on the offensive end. It was a recipe for disaster.
The decisive shooting drought finally ended in the third quarter, down 30-13, with Ryan Roberts’ layup. That began a comeback that saw the Chargers eventually chop the lead to three points, 49-46, with 4:16 left in the game; much of that deficit was knocked down the Chargers actually knocked down some baskets.
Tanner Aguera’s three-pointer at 6:32 cut the deficit to 47-36, and White followed with a three-pointer 30 seconds later to make it 49-39. Jake Lunardi made a three-point play to close to 49-42 with 5:21 left in the game, and Buaku made three of four free throws.
"We beat a very good team tonight," Santa Monica coach James Hecht said. "We weathered a few storms. We felt if they were going to beat us, it was going to be from the three-point line."
After Lunardi’s three-point play, El Toro made only one more field goal as Santa Monica extended the lead once more.
“Two of 24 is not normal,” said Dixon, whose teams didn’t shoot very well at the Honda Center in their two previous championship appearances. “Typically we have guys who can shoot the ball in our program. … I thought we rushed a couple early and then it started to snowball a little.
“We had a rough night shooting and it’s tough to win when that’s your strength.”