Rolling Hills gave Coach Cliff Warren, a natural worrier, plenty of reasons to be a nervous wreck Wednesday night in the first round of the Hilltop Classic basketball tournament at Miraleste High.
Starting guards Mark Tesar and Steve Clover picked up their fourth fouls early in the third quarter, star forward John Hardy was off his game and Rolling Hills squandered nearly all of a 10-point lead in the final two minutes.
Yet, the Titans (4-1) came through when they had to, pulling away in the final seconds for a 73-67 win over Bishop Montgomery to set up a meeting with rival Palos Verdes (4-1) in the semifinals at 6 tonight.
"I have to be patient," said Warren, who lost all five starters from last year's CIF 3-A runner-up team. "I believe I have some great basketball players, but we're just not there yet."
Hardy, a 6-3 junior who was named to the All-Pacific Shores Tournament team last week, shot poorly from the field most of the game but wound up hitting six free throws in the final 55 seconds to decide matters.
He finished with a game-high 25 points despite what Warren called "the worst first half of his career."
Rolling Hills needed Hardy's last-minute heroics. The Titans had a 66-56 lead with 2:36 left whittled to 66-64 with 1:40 after Bishop Montgomery (1-3) converted three straight Rolling Hills turnovers into baskets.
But after Matt Krutell's close-range shot pulled the Knights within two, Rolling Hills scored seven unanswered points to take a 74-63 lead with 17 seconds left on two free throws by Hardy.
"We're just making a lot of mistakes," Warren said. "The players are not relating to each other yet, but we've done the right things at the end of the game."
Rolling Hills got a big effort off the bench from junior guard Ron Dinnel. The transfer from South Torrance scored 14 points and led the team with eight rebounds, several critical down the stretch.
Dinnel's contribution helped make up for the foul trouble that plagued the team's other back-court regulars--Tesar and Clover.
"We don't like to play defense with our feet," said Warren, explaining his team's foul trouble. "We like to play with our hands."
Bishop Montgomery, which bothered Rolling Hills late in the game with an aggressive full-court press, was led by junior guard Michael Wright with 15 points.
Tonight's Rolling Hills-Palos Verdes game marks the second year in a row the Peninsula rivals will meet in the semifinals. Last season Palos Verdes beat the Titans on its way to the Hilltop title. Rolling Hills won the championship two years ago.
"We want to play them," Warren said. "We haven't stepped up to the caliber where we can beat good teams yet, but it will be a good test for our boys."
Palos Verdes 45, South Torrance 35--Palos Verdes' zone defense limited South to eight points in the fourth quarter as the Sea Kings held on in the first round of the Hilltop Classic.
South (1-3) twice cut its deficit to seven points in the fourth quarter, but Palos Verdes overcame several breakdowns in its half-court offense.
Senior forward Jeff Whitley led the Sea Kings with 14 points, all but two coming in the first half, and senior swing man Mike Matteoni added 11.
Mary Star 70, Mira Costa 60--John Glavan, a 6-9 senior, scored 23 points and senior guard Dewey Dominguez had 19 and 9 rebounds to lead the Stars (2-2) in the first round of the Hilltop Classic. Mira Costa dropped to 0-3.
Miraleste 55, Chadwick 49--Sean Goodwin, a 6-5, 230-pound freshman, scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Marauders (1-3) in a Hilltop Classic opener. Sophomore guard David Terrell added 14 points for Miraleste, which plays host to Mary Star at 7:30 tonight in the semifinals. Chadwick dropped to 1-3.
Inglewood 62, Ocean View 60--Reserve guard Charles Monroe hit two free throws with 1:05 remaining, and forward Harold Miner had 36 points and 11 rebounds to lift the Sentinels (3-2) to a non-league win at Inglewood.
Monroe's free throws gave Inglewood a 62-58 lead. After Ocean View (2-2) pulled within two points on a pair of free throws with 42 seconds remaining, the Sentinels ran out the clock.
It was the second straight impressive performance by Miner. The 6-4 junior had 39 points and 10 rebounds Saturday night in an overtime loss to Carson.
Morningside 69, Muir 54--Senior forward Shaunda Greene scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Wednesday night to help the Lady Monarchs reach the championship game of the Artesia Girls Basketball Tournament with a 69-54 semifinal win over Muir.
Morningside (5-0), ranked No. 2 in the CIF 4-A Division, will play top-ranked Lynwood at 8:30 tonight in the finals at Artesia High.
Point guard Carla Gladden added 19 points and 10 assists for the Lady Monarchs, and 6-4 center Lisa Leslie had 14 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.