By Michael Matossian
The Dana Hills High School boys basketball team looked to take the bull by the horns in a South Coast League matchup against rival El Toro on Jan. 13. In the end, it was the Chargers who took control, pushing past the Dolphins 55-51 in a tightly contested matchup.
The league win was the first for the Chargers (14-5) while the Dolphins (7-11) fell to 0-2 in the South Coast League.
El Toro jumped on Dana Hills early and went on a 12-5 scoring run to open up the first quarter. The Chargers kept up the pressure in the second quarter, fueled by an 11-0 run that extended the home team’s lead to 19 points with four minutes to go before halftime.
A turning point in the game came in those final two minutes before the break. Dana Hills sophomore guard Zach Stirtz made two quick baskets to break El Toro’s momentum, and Dana Hills finished the half on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 10.
The Dolphins carried the energy with them into the third quarter. Dolphins senior Garrett Arico helped cut the El Toro lead to five in the quarter. Arico finished with a game-high 19 points and four rebounds.
Facing an eight-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, Dana Hills narrowed the gap to four thanks to Jacob Phillps’ shooting ability. Phillips poured in 13 points and six rebounds on the night.
With its lead cut down to four, El Toro was able to regroup and keep the Dolphins at bay. El Toro guard Noah Aguilar came off the bench late in the fourth, hit a clutch jumper and a pair of free throws to push the lead back to seven with 25 seconds remaining.
The Dolphins have now lost back-to-back closely contested league games. Despite taking a late lead in the third quarter against rival San Clemente on Jan. 8, Dana Hills could not hold on as the Tritons mounted a comeback in a 56-45 victory.
“To beat the really good teams, we have to play four quarters and we haven’t. We had a chance (against El Toro), we just didn’t finish it,” Dana Hills head coach Tom Desiano said. “At the same time I think it gave our kids a little bit of confidence knowing we can play with the best of the league.”
Dana Hills will continue league play with a road game against Aliso Niguel on Jan. 15.