It didn’t take long for Jez Lawson to whip the home crowd into a frenzy Tuesday night.
After the Coast Union senior scored on a layup two minutes into the Broncos’ CIF-Southern Section Division 5A quarterfinal game against Faith Baptist, Lawson sprinted back on defense with his tongue hanging out of his mouth as he looked at each teammate. His long brown hair bounced with each stride.
“It’s been like that since he was in fourth grade,” Coast Union coach Tim May said. “When they have their Jez going, they pretty much rally around him.”
Jez was definitely going on Tuesday. He scored 13 points in the first half and finished with a team-high 16 points in a 43-33 win over Faith Baptist.
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“Coming out at home, it’s just really easy to get all the energy going. It’s different than away games, and we had it,” Lawson said. “It was so fun. The fans were into it. We were all into it. It feels great to go to a semifinal.”
The win advanced the Coast Valley League champions and No. 1-seeded Broncos to the division semifinals for the first time since the school won a Central Section Division 5 title in 1999. May was on that team.
May said that even though the team has been collecting CVL titles in recent years, it hasn’t made it past the second round in the playoffs due to a “we aren’t going to do much, we are just going to compete” attitude.
“This group of guys made a commitment last year to work hard in the offseason, work hard in the weight room,” May said. “What I love is that they are showing these kids and the community, if you work hard and you’re determined, you do all those coach-speak things, success is going to happen.”
“Our school, we haven’t been into basketball,” Lawson said. “We haven’t been good for years, and finally we are coming up there on the Central Coast and finally getting known, and it’s nice.”
Coast Union has made a habit of blowing teams out this season. After a bye in the first round, Coast Union beat up on Besant Hill School, 49-19. But that all changed Tuesday night when Faith Baptist freshman Benjamin Todd stepped into the Cambria gym. The 6-foot-10 center showed all the makings of a future Division I talent and scored 10 points in the first quarter.
Then Jez went to work.
“Jez is a smart kid, a 4.0 student,” May said. “He worked angles here and there, and the team did a better job of helping as the game went on.”
Coast Union held Todd to eight points in the final three quarters. After the third quarter ended with the Broncos leading 33-31, Coast Union allowed just two points in the fourth quarter. The fans erupted with every turnover and Broncos basket.
“In the regular season, we didn’t have much of a turnout,” Lawson said. “But the first two playoff games we have had have been at home, and it’s been so cool just looking up and seeing the student section getting hyped up. It’s super fun.”
Coast Union also got key contributions from Jack MacKinnon with 11 points and Auggie Johnson with six points. But May knows the fun starts with Lawson.
“He’s the guy,” May said. “The fact of the matter is ... if we win (a division title) then he’s definitely the 5A player of the year. I feel, every single time we step out on the court, I’ve got the best guy on the floor. He’s not going to wow everyone every single time with what he does offensively, but he grinds, he’s a gamer and you see it. Everyone just follows him.”
The team built on pressure defense and a grind-it-out offense will travel to play Sherman Indian (Riverside) in the semifinals Friday with one goal in mind: Put Coast Union back on the map.
“If we keep playing our pestering defense on those guys and whatever happens happens. If we win, we win, and I really hope we do,” Lawson said.