Season Starts At Mira Costa
By Fred Altieri
It was: "Heartbrrreak!", a phrase coined and famously emphasized by the late great Los Angeles Laker announcer Chick Hearn. The Culver City High boys basketball team was mere seconds away from running the table at the Mira Costa Pacific Shores Tournament that initiated the 2013-14 basketball season.
A jump shot from the right corner along the baseline just missed as time expired in the Centaurs' overtime loss to host Mira Costa, 59-58 in Saturday night's championship game.
The Culver squad, bitterly disappointed for not securing its see-saw action-packed contest, regained their composure, congratulated the Mustangs and soberly watched as head coach Adam Eskridge accepted the team's 2nd Place trophy.
Standouts for Culver included forward Armani Nicolis and guard Chris Edwards as both received All-Tournament honors.
The Centaurs controlled the tempo throughout much of the game just as they had in their three previous wins leading up to final match. In Monday's Game #1 they beat West Torrance, 52-49. In Tuesday's Game #2 they beat Torrance, 51-49. In Friday's Game #3 they beat Carson, 58-48.
Coach Eskridge gauged their progress after Friday's victory, "Based on our first games of the year, we have to learn how to play with a lead and how to deal with prosperity is what I told the team today. When things are going well, how do we keep going well, not relaxing, not settling for the 10-point lead and looking for a 15-point lead."
Nicolis scored 14 points and dominated the boards with 14 rebounds despite his limited court time in the second half due to foul trouble. Edwards scored a team-high 20 points while swingman Isaac Girley added 13 points.
Eskridge expects the leadership to continue for the rest of the season, "Armani is a wing player, he plays big, he does it all for us. He's really our most versatile player on both ends. He controls the boards and the paint for us. He had a couple of tough fouls today so he had to sit out for a little bit. He can score outside, inside, midrange and off the bounce.
"Chris Edwards is our spark plug. He's very talented offensively. Those two will be our leading scorers this year but his energy is what we feed off of because he just goes and goes and goes."
After a first quarter tie at 8-8, Culver lead at halftime with a pressing team defense and by controlling the boards, 20-18. But after the Centaurs took a 29-20 lead by scoring nine straight points in the opening three minutes of the third quarter the Mustangs responded on the back of their senior and big man, Justin Springs, the tournament's MVP who also scored a game-high 23 points.
Mira Costa retook the lead, 33-32, going into the final quarter.
Both teams lit up the scoreboard in the final eight minutes of regulation. Down 42-35 with 4:41 left in the game, Culver came back with a trapping defense, crashing the boards, knocking down three-pointers, scoring low and hitting free throws.
Eskridge describes his team's style, "We play a pretty aggressive defense. We're hard on the ball. Usually we're a man-to-man pressure team. We like to get out, get into passing lanes, get steals and then be gone.
"Offensively, we pop our guards to the wings and look to go if the other team misses. Any opportunity we can with a stop we look to push it. That's our identity. That's our DNA."
The score was 51-51 at the end of regulation when Culver just missed on a game-winning outside jumper from the left side as the clock ticked to zero. The action grew tenser by the second as the extra four minutes ticked away. Edwards hit a three-pointer for a 54-53 Centaur lead. Point guard Aaron Edison's put-back off the glass made it 56-53.
The Centaurs were on the verge of victory when they took a 58-53 lead with 1:25 left in overtime on a six-foot floater from Girley after he'd weaved his way through the right side of the Mustang defense. But it was not to be as Mira Costa toughed it out and managed to score the game's last six points.
Culver has a 3-1 non-league record starting the season. Coach Eskridge wrapped it up, "I think we're pretty good. I like our team. I like our buildup. I like the way we match up with those other teams in our league but we have to keep improving. Like I've told our guys, "It's good to be happy about our start but we cannot be satisfied because we are a long way from where we want to be."
Culver City went on to the Santa Monica High tournament this week.