DANA POINT – The Dana Hills boys basketball team started fast and closed hard to snap a near decade-long streak against its neighborhood rival on Monday, Jan. 23, at Dana Hills High School.
The Dolphins led by as many 19 points in the first half and turned back an Aliso Niguel comeback with a physical fourth quarter to defeat Wolverines, 61-50, for the first time since 2014, breaking a 10-game losing streak to their district rival.
Dana Hills (15-6, 3-1) moved into sole possession of first place in the Sea View League to open the second of three rounds of league play.
“That first half was definitely the best half we’ve played since league started,” Dana Hills coach Tom Desiano said. “One of the things that we emphasized with playing them a second time was we had to play tougher. We felt like we weren’t tough enough in that first game, and they kind of had their way with us in the paint. We couldn’t let them go wherever they wanted to go, and I thought we did a pretty good job for that.”
The Dolphins strong play in the paint was led by junior Niki Grguric and his team-high 15 points. Grguric, a transfer from JSerra, paced Dana Hills with six of its first eight points and all seven of its third-quarter points.
“I’m new here, so I’m kind of just filling in, but we all play as a team,” Grguric said. “We’re all friends. We trust each other. I think today, it was just our night. All the shots fell, we played good ‘D’, we rebounded.”
Since becoming eligible in December, Grguric has added that interior element for Dana Hills and taken the pressure off of Collin Haugh, who set the school points record three times in the early portion of the season. Haugh scored 12 points on Tuesday, with Dennis Powers adding 10 points.
He brings that edge to us that we desperately needed, and that resonates with the others,” Desiano said of Grguric. “By his example is where we tell the other players, Niki is working him, but he can’t be the only one. Everybody’s got to pull their weight. We’re not an overly big team, but now you’re going to have to bump somebody. You’re going to have to block out. You’re going to have to rebound and do the little things to be successful, and for the most part, we did that tonight.”
Dana Hills came right at Aliso Niguel (13-8, 2-2) with an opening 17-3 run into the second quarter, and another 11-3 run in the second quarter to push out to a 19-point lead.
The Dolphins led at halftime, 28-11, but the Wolverines got a spark in the third quarter.
“They started getting some shots,” Desiano said. “We missed our rotations. Then they got some offensive rebounds, and we just had to weather the storm.”
After not hitting a 3-pointer in the first half, Aliso Niguel opened the second half from distance and sank five 3-pointers in the third quarter to cut Dana Hills’ lead to just four points going into the fourth quarter, 35-31. However, the Dolphins regained their focus in the fourth quarter.
“Coach said we just have to slow it down,” Grguric said. “No turnovers. No threes. The problem was, whenever they make a three, they keep on rolling, keep on rolling. So we took away the threes. We gave a couple lay-ups here and there, but we stopped their momentum. That’s what gave us the win.”
Dana Hills played disciplined and took advantage of free throws, making 14 of 18 in the fourth quarter to get back out to a double-digit lead and close down the game.
The Dolphins only hit three 3-pointers in the game, one each from Haugh, Powers and Cole Davison. Davison and Logan Scodeller each scored seven points for Dana Hills
Aliso Niguel’s Ryan McElroy led all scorers with 17 points. Garrett Trayer scored 11 for the Wolverines with nine from Ethan Harrington and eight from Jay Fromm.
The Dolphins haven’t won a league championship since 2014, and while they’re in the pole position, there’s plenty of road left to travel in what’s proven to be a tight competition.
The Dolphins play at Mission Viejo (12-11, 1-3) on Wednesday, Jan. 25 and host El Toro (13-10, 2-2) on Friday, Jan. 27. Dana Hills survived a late challenge from Mission Viejo, 66-65, on Jan. 13 and beat El Toro by seven points, 58-51, on Jan. 20.
Dana Hills plays Aliso Niguel (13-8, 2-2) for the third and final time this season on the road on Monday, Jan. 30.