It comes as no surprise that a basketball team led by a longtime football coach will rack up the fouls.
Russ Edwards brought the ability to fill up the scoresheet with him to the Nipomo High boys basketball team as well.
Four Titans scored in double figures, led by Freddy Ruiz’s 14 points, and 10 players registered at least a point, as Nipomo continued the best start to league play in program history with an 86-59 victory at home Friday against Templeton.
“We’ve got 11 guys that can play,” said Edwards, who coached the high-pressure and high- octane Nipomo football team to a CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division title in December. “We’re a balanced team with a lot of nice pieces that compliment each other well.
“I kind of bring that defensive football mentality to the table, where we’re going to be aggressive and physical.”
The Titans were whistled for 32 fouls Friday — 20 in the second half alone — but still forced 16 turnovers and made 30 field goals.
“We’re playing good on-ball defense,” Edwards said. “We’re getting to the point where we’re getting to the correct spots, and now we just have to close it out properly and not reach.
“That was our whole discussion postgame: We’re that close to being really good on defense.”
Nipomo (8-10, 4-1 Los Padres League) has the best five-game start to the league season in program history, and with many of the same players returning from last year’s 2-10 LPL campaign, they are pointing to the bench for the biggest reason why.
“The difference has been the coaching,” said Ruiz, a four-year starter who endured past league records of 2-10, 1-11 and 5-7. “Coach Edwards brings the intensity, while the past few years we haven’t had that intense coach.”
Edwards, who is also the school’s athletic director, took that credit and flipped it right back around.
“The majority of them were on the varsity team last year, and they could always score points,” he said. “The big change has been getting these guys to buy into the whole team concept. Not caring who has the big stat night, and celebrating each other whether you’re in the game or not. This team is really building to something special in that regard.”
Tyler Diaz, DJ Sosa and Trevor Small each scored 12 points, with Sosa and Small combining to go 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in a game that featured 55 combined fouls.
“We’re very versatile,” Ruiz said. “We don’t have one weak spot on our team — everyone can play and everyone can start night in and night out.”
Aiden Sarbeck, who came into the game averaging a double-double per contest, finished with a game-high 19 points for Templeton (4-8, 1-4), which is still learning to play in new coach Larry McCoy’s system.
“We have a lot of stuff that we’re trying to re-do and undo,” said McCoy, a former assistant at St. Joseph who took over at Templeton for Fred Price. “The guys are responding well, and ... they understand what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to play an aggressive defense, try and play physical and get it inside to our big guy.”
Sarbeck, 6-foot-4 senior, finished with five field goals and was 9 of 18 from the foul line, and McCoy said after the game he felt Sarbeck should have been awarded more free throws.
“The officials officiated a horrible game,” he said. “They didn’t call any fouls on our big guy inside and he’s getting hammered, and then they call little hand checks out on the perimeter.”
The Eagles jumped out to an early 6-0 lead thanks to two 3-pointers by Wyatt Barrett, who finished with 12 points, but Luke Nickelson answered with his two triples of his own, and Nipomo surged out to leads of 18-14 through one quarter and 43-32 at halftime.
The Titans’ lone league loss is to LPL unbeaten Cabrillo, which Nipomo has a chance to avenge on the road Jan. 26 following contests at Santa Maria and Lompoc.
“It’s very relieving knowing that we put in all that effort in practice,” Ruiz said of the 4-1 start, “and it’s finally paying off.”