CORONA DEL MAR — On the scouting report on Corona del Mar High, Northwood Coach Tim O'Brien said Max Stone's name was in bold face. He knew all about Stone's eight three-pointers he knocked down on Friday night.
But the player who almost rallied the Sea Kings late in a key Pacific Coast League game on Tuesday wasn't Stone.
In the final 66 seconds, with the defense zeroed in on stopping Stone, Blake Grable went to work for CdM. He scored the team's final seven points, almost nine, but his tip-in to beat the buzzer and force overtime went in-and-out.
The Timberwolves escaped with a 55-53 road victory, taking sole possession of first place in league. O'Brien breathed a sigh of relief after his team avoided a major collapse at the end to stay undefeated in league.
"Well, what do you do? You got high school kids trying to win a game. It's just not easy," said O'Brien, whose team led by seven points with 29 seconds left, only to see CdM roar back with five straight points and make it a two-point game. "I've done this long enough. It's never easy."
Winning at CdM isn't easy. Before Tuesday, only one league team had won at CdM in the past three seasons.
The Sea Kings, ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3-AA poll, had two shots at the end to force overtime. With 2.8 seconds left, they had to go a long way, inbounding the ball from their end.
Tyler Duncan inbounded the ball, throwing a perfect pass to Ryan Griffin, a 6-foot-4 forward who caught it past half court. Griffin quickly found Bo St. Geme, who launched a shot near the three-point line.
The shot didn't go in, but there was Grable, trying to tip the ball in, only to see it not fall as the buzzer sounded. Northwood survived and handed CdM its first league setback this season.
The league favorites early in the season are the Timberwolves (14-5, 3-0 in league) if you ask CdM Coach Ryan Schachter. They have proven they're the top team so far. They have traveled to Woodbridge, the defending league champion, and CdM (12-8, 2-1), which has won four of the past six league titles, and prevailed each time.
The Timberwolves, ranked No. 5 in Division 3-A, edged CdM by playing a 2-3 zone, slowing the tempo down, and racing for easy layups right after CdM hit a big shot.
It seemed the player who always converted the layups in transition for Northwood was Kevin Norman. The senior helped Northwood turn a one-point game at halftime into a nine-point lead in favor of the visitors.
Norman scored half of his 16 points in the third quarter, allowing Northwood to go into the fourth quarter ahead, 46-37.
"In the third quarter alone, we gave up six points [to Norman] on just uncontested layups," said Schachter, who also saw Norman, near the baseline and in traffic, make a layup after a nice up-and-under move.
"They do a great job in transition of getting a quick layup. I haven't seen a team do that in a long time."
At the start of the fourth, Northwood went to Zach Pierce, who finished with 16 points.
The forward scored the team's first five points in the quarter, two coming on an off-balance jumper near the free-throw line that beat the shot clock and gave Northwood a 50-40 lead with 6 1/2 minutes left to play. The rest of the way, it was a struggle for Northwood to produce, only Norman made two field goals, both fast-break layups, one coming on a steal and another after a missed three-pointer.
The only other player to make a basket against Northwood in the fourth quarter was Stone, who finished with 24 points. He made three of his four threes in the fourth, getting the Sea Kings within seven with less than two minutes left to play.
Then Grable came alive, scoring seven of his 16 points in the fourth. With 16 seconds left, he nailed a three-pointer, his third of the game, cutting the deficit to 55-51.
Almost 10 seconds later, he had another three-point opportunity after getting fouled while making a shot. Grable missed the free throw, and CdM trailed, 55-53.