During the basketball season, Agoura High was the butt of a lot of jokes--from its own campus.
Somewhere along the way, the jokes stopped and the bleachers filled as the Chargers finished in a tie for second place in the Frontier League and qualified for the Southern Section 2-A playoffs.
With only an 11-11 overall record, Agoura rolled through the first three rounds of the playoffs and might have continued on to its first-ever championship. But it ran into its league nemesis, Santa Clara, and dropped a 57-47 decision in the semifinals Wednesday evening before a packed gym at Westlake High.
Said Agoura Coach Bob LaBelle: "Not too many people thought we would do very well this season. We had only one returning letterman (senior guard Steve Armstrong) but the kids really gelled in the playoffs. It would have been nice to win (the championship), but Santa Clara is a great team, not only in 2-A, but in all of Southern California."
Two of the Saints' three losses this season came against perennial Orange County power Mater Dei in early-season tournaments. Santa Clara has won 26 games.
Agoura and Santa Clara, the Frontier League champions, had met twice before in league play. The Saints routed Agoura by scores of 74-58 and 69-50--and the way Wednesday's game began, it looked as if another rout was in the making.
The Saints sprinted out to a 16-7 first-quarter lead and increased the advantage to 32-21 at halftime.
Senior guard Stacey Cvijanovich scored 16 points on 5 of 6 field-goal attempts and 6 of 7 free throws in the first half.
Leading by 12 points in the fourth period, Santa Clara suddenly went cold, missing five straight shots. The Chargers promptly scored seven unanswered points to reduce the lead to 46-41 with 4:12 remaining.
But Santa Clara guard Frank Ramirez scored 9 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, including three clutch free throws in the closing minutes.
Cvijanovich led Santa Clara with 22 points, while teammate James Gama added 10 points. Cvijanovich was 8 of 16 from the field, had 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Donnie Rea led Agoura, which finished 14-12, with 15 points. Armstrong and forward Mike Corridori each had 13 points for the Chargers. Corridori added 12 rebounds.
Santa Clara will meet the winner of the Nordhoff-El Monte semifinal Saturday at the Long Beach Arena.
Saints Coach Lou Cvijanovich will be attempting to win his ninth Southern Section basketball title. The last one was in 1983.