The most successful Coast Union varsity boys basketball season since 1999 came to a close in Riverside on Friday, Feb. 24, as the Broncos lost to the Sherman Indian High School Braves 53-48 in the CIF Division 5A semifinals.
The Braves earned a ticket to play for the divisional championship March 4, while the Broncos, with an overall record of 22-4, can be proud of a thrilling season while fighting back bitter tears after coming so close to getting into the finals.
The Broncos got off to a sluggish start in that pivotal game — scoring a scant six points in the first quarter and seven points in the second quarter. The lackluster beginning, very uncharacteristic of this dynamic, high-flying team, followed the team’s late arrival at the Sherman Indian gymnasium.
The game was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but Coast Union’s two vans were bogged down in logjammed Southern California traffic and they didn’t arrive until 6:20 p.m.
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Trailing 20-13 entering the second half, the Broncos began to get into their groove, and trailed just 33-29 entering the fourth quarter. But the Braves, a gifted and disciplined team of Native American student-athletes whose school is funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, harassed Coast with a robust defense and forced the Broncos to take outside shots.
And that turned out to be the dagger, as the Broncos hit on just 15 of 53 two-point attempts — a disappointing 28 percent success rate. Coast three-point ace Auggie Johnson found the net on just four of 13 3-point attempts, while leading scorer Jez Lawson nailed two of four 3-pointers and Sam MacKinnon scored a pair of 3-pointers on eight attempts.
I have nothing but love for what my players did on the court. They battled through adversity; they did everything they were asked to do. I’m extremely proud of them.
Tim May, Coast Union boys basketball coach
Lawson tallied 17 points in the game; he had success on seven of nine free throw attempts and dished out four assists. Johnson scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and had three steals.
Jack MacKinnon led the Broncos with five rebounds and six assists; he also had three steals. Jack’s twin brother, Sam MacKinnon, scored nine points, had two steals, two assists and two rebounds for Coast.
Riley Kennedy had three points, a steal, an assist and a pair of rebounds. Thor Ronemus had two points and a rebound and Roberto Cueva chipped in with two rebounds and an assist for Coast.
The highway hindrance
It was coach Tim May’s plan to get his team into the gym at Sherman Indian High School at least an hour before game time, to conduct warm-ups and get “acclimated to a new gym and get into a rhythm,” he said in an email interview. But the several log-jammed freeways threw a wrench into those plans.
May explained that the late arrival prevented normal pregame exercises. And it left the team ice cold at the start of the game. “Especially for our shooters,” he said, the lack of time to get ready “contributed to our poor first half.”
While not making excuses (“Sherman Indian is a very good team”), May said if he had to do it over again, instead of staying in Pasadena on Thursday night, “we would stay the night in Riverside.”
The Broncos left Pasadena at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon and were bogged down in stop-and-go traffic for nearly three hours. Hence, without quality time to get their legs ready for competition — and experiencing the inevitable stress from the horrifically snarled traffic scene, plus the lingering fear that the team might actually be late for their semifinal game — the Broncos were forced to play catch-up against the well-rested home team.
Late in the game, needing to put pressure on the Braves’ best shooter and rebounder, the beefy and talented 6-foot-6 senior Anthony “Gus” Running Horse, the Broncos were called for several fouls. And Running Horse (along with teammate Jonathan Dewey) made free throw after free throw, putting the game beyond Coast’s ability to come back.
May said he regrets not asking his team to attack the basket late in the fourth quarter, especially when Running Horse fouled out. Still, late in the game, Coast came back from being down eight points to tie the game 46-46 before the Braves went on a 7-2 closing run.
“I have nothing but love for what my players did on the court,” the coach concluded. “They battled through adversity; they did everything they were asked to do. I’m extremely proud of them. … The community rallied behind them and brought a lot of excitement back to Coast Union.
“I’m thankful they brought me on the ride with them,” said May, Coast Union’s English literature teacher, as he completed his 13th season coaching varsity basketball at Coast Union.