Members of the Costa Mesa High boys' basketball team tied a program record this year with 19 wins.
They also won the Battle of the Bell series against cross-town rival Estancia for the third straight year.
What they weren't able to do prior to Wednesday night's CIF Southern Section Division 4AA first-round playoff game, though, was grow several inches each.
Visiting Harvard-Westlake had a size advantage, and the No. 8-seeded Wolverines exploited it on their way to a 64-48 victory that ended Costa Mesa's season.
Senior small forward Derick Newton, who stands 6-foot-5, was guarded admirably by Costa Mesa senior Oronde Crenshaw, who is four inches shorter, for most of the night. Newton still scored a team-high 16 points. But Harvard-Westlake also was able to bring in 6-8 sophomore center Nick Medavoy, who had eight points and nine rebounds in the second half as the visitors pulled away.
"The thing we knew coming in was that Oronde had to be extremely tough tonight," first-year Costa Mesa Coach Mike Molina said. "We have no one over 6-3, 6-4 that moves that well, so we definitely had to make Oronde be a defensive stopper. He's a tough kid, man. He's relentless. He's one of those kids who you tell him to do something, he'll bend over backward for you, and he did that tonight. He did a great job on [Newton], making him battle, and just kind of making him uncomfortable throughout the whole game."
The Wolverines (12-15) are not only big, but their record is misleading. They played a much more difficult schedule than Costa Mesa (19-9). They finished tied for fifth in the Mission League, but the top two teams from that league — Loyola and Chaminade — are seeded third and ninth respectively in the CIF Southern Section open division. The third place team, Alemany, is the No. 2-seeded team in Division 1A, and the fourth-place team, Crespi, is the No. 4 seed in Division 4AA.
"They got in [the Division 4AA playoffs] with an at-large bid, and they're ranked eighth," Molina said. "That shows how tough that league is, and how much they work, how much preparation they do. That's a historic program over there. We're never going to be as big [as they are]. We're never going to get the biggest guys with the most talent, because we're surrounded by teams like Mater Dei and Newport Harbor, CdM, Edison. We've kind of got to work with what we've got, and I thought we did a great job, effort-wise, in the second quarter."
Harvard-Westlake took a 20-point lead early in the second quarter, and the game looked like it was out of hand. But the Mustangs finished the half on a 15-1 run, climbing within 27-21 at halftime. Senior guard Sean Comer, who led all scorers with 21 points, poured in nine of those during the run.
But Harvard-Westlake opened the second half with six straight points to pish the lead to double digits, then scored 10 unanswered points to push the lead to 50-31 early in the fourth quarter. Junior guard Alex Copeland, who scored 10 of his 14 points after halftime and seemed to penetrate into the lane at will, was key in the run.
Harvard-Westlake Coach Greg Hilliard, in his 29th season, was on his way to earning his 602nd win with the school.
"We've struggled all season long with 10-point runs we've been giving up, where we lose our focus and concentration," Hilliard said. "We had another one of those in the second quarter. You noticed [the Mustangs'] increased energy, and the quality of play picked up as soon as they got a little confidence. We really had to come back in that third quarter and re-establish ourselves. I'm glad we did, because we haven't done that every time.
"We decided to go with the size mismatch with [Medavoy] on their smaller guys, and hope that he didn't get burned on the defensive end. It turned out to work really well ... that made a big difference for us."
Sophomore Mason Tufuga scored 10 points for Costa Mesa. Senior guard Kyle Hefner scored seven, all in the fourth quarter, and Crenshaw added six. The Mustangs struggled from three-point range, missing all 12 of their attempts in the first three quarters. They finished three of 20 from threedom.
Yet, near the end of the game, the starters received well-earned applause from the crowd when Molina subbed them out. They helped the Mustangs finish second in the Orange Coast League and make the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
"We just battled," Molina said. "It was a David versus Goliath night, and in this instance, David didn't win. But I'm extremely proud of our guys throughout the year."
Harvard-Westlake plays host to No. 9-seeded Maranatha in the second round of the Division 4AA playoffs on Friday night.
CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs