LCC's Brandon Miller (top) and El Camino's Daniel Torres battle for a loose ball.
OCEANSIDE Normally in a boys basketball game, an 18-point lead is a welcomed sight.
But no one on the La Costa Canyon High side was celebrating, especially in the first half of the Avocado West League showdown at El Camino.
With good reason.
That large margin went all the way down to three points in the fourth quarter during a furious El Camino rally before No. 4-ranked La Costa Canyon prevailed for a 61-53 win over the No. 5 Wildcats on Tuesday night.
The Mavericks (19-4, 5-0) concluded the first round of league play alone atop the standings, courtesy of their 20-of-26 effort from the free throw line.
It was their 14th win in the last 15 outings, losing only to Etiwanda last Saturday.
Junior Fritz Eibel, a reserve who rarely played on last year’s state Division II runner-up squad, was 6 of 8 from the line in the final quarter.
“In a gym like this, with their whole school here, one basket can change the momentum in a hurry,” said Eibel, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. “Up 18 is not a comfortable spot.”
Led by Imanni Sobers, who scored three points in the first half for El Camino (20-3, 4-1), and the tenacious pressing defense, the Wildcats outscored the Mavs 36-22 in a second-half charge that closed the deficit to 53-50 with 1:50 play.
But the Mavs hit 8 of 10 charities the rest of the way to seal the victory that snapped El Camino’s 12-game winning streak dating back to Dec. 26 against Downey.
“You can’t beat game experience,” Eibel said. “The second half, when we nearly got down so quickly, surprised me. But that’s league.”
La Costa Canyon coach Dave Cassaw noted that handling the press was the key to not allowing the Wildcats to roar back any closer than they were when the score was tied 3-3.
“I was glad to see, once they made their run, we steadied the ship and played good defense the rest of the way,” Cassaw said. “There were three or four minutes where we couldn’t do anything.
“We slowed our heartbeat down and changed all that.”
In addition to Eibel’s production, the Mavs got 14 points and 11 rebounds from Kyle Sachrison and 12 points from Tommy McCarthy.
Sobers took game honors with 16 points followed by Samuel Bockman’s 14 points.
“They were ready to play physical,” Wildcats coach Ray Johnson said. “We just didn’t play.
“You can’t go down 18 points and expect to beat a team like that.”