For the second time in five days, Todd Marinovich of Capistrano Valley High School made the big plays down the stretch in a big game as the Cougars rallied to defeat El Toro, 68-61, Wednesday night in the South Coast League boys' basketball opener before 3,000 fans in UC Irvine's Bren Center.
Marinovich, who established a national career passing record last fall during football season, has demonstrated he's equally proficient in basketball in victories over Mater Dei and El Toro.
Wednesday, he scored five points in the final 58 seconds as the Cougars (13-4, 1-0) completed a rally from a seven-point deficit with four minutes left to win. El Toro (11-4, 0-1) was shut out, 14-0, during the span after it held a 61-54 lead.
El Toro led, 44-34, at halftime after forward Eric Speaker hit six three-point shots in the opening half.
Capistrano Valley limited El Toro to 17 points in the second half by extending its 2-3 zone to the three-point line and double-teaming whoever handled the ball for the Chargers. The strategy resulted in 10 second-half turnovers by El Toro, which hit just 7 of 21 shots.
"We took them out of their rhythm in the second half," said Mark Thornton, Capistrano Valley coach. "Speaker was awesome. That was one of the best shooting nights I've ever seen in high school.
"I figured we weren't quick enough to to man-to-man against them, so we had to go with the zone. I told the players at halftime that we had to match up with them on the three-point line the way they were shooting."
El Toro made 16 of 26 shots in the first half, including 7 of 8 three-point attempts. Speaker had 20 points at halftime and finished with 31, including eight three-point shots.
But the rest of the night belonged to Marinovich. He made a three-point play with 58 seconds remaining to give Capistrano Valley its first lead since the first quarter, 64-61, and then added two free throws 21 seconds later to clinch the win.
The game marked the first meeting between the schools since Capistrano Valley was forced to forfeit a victory over El Toro last fall for a spying incident. The crowd was vocal and enthusiastic, but there were no problems.
Marinovich said he tried not to think about a disappointing football season going into the league's basketball opener.
"I tried to keep the football season out of my mind and just play basketball, but when I came out on the court, I looked over in the stands and saw all the football players and flashed back," he said. "I'm just real happy to beat El Toro."
It was the third consecutive time El Toro has lost to Capistrano Valley. Charger Coach Tim Travers summed up the defeat in a word: turnovers.
"We played great for 29 minutes, and then turnovers killed us in the last three minutes," he said. "We were up, 61-54, and then committed four turnovers in five possessions."
The loss may be even more costly for the Chargers. Point guard Bret Johnson twisted his ankle in the final seconds and had to be assisted to the locker room by two teammates.
In other South Coast League games:
Dana Hills 39, Irvine 37--Center John Lloyd made two free throws with two seconds remaining to give the Dolphins (8-7, 1-0) the victory over Irvine (7-9, 0-1).
Mission Viejo 70, San Clemente 51--Center Jeff Springfield scored 27 points and had 11 rebounds for the Diablos (8-7, 1-0). Point guard Mike Peters had 15 points and 7 assists for San Clemente (2-11, 0-1).