LEMOORE — It was just another Servite High School basketball game, according to Coach Richard Smith.
The Friars were a little ugly, at times, and very physical. But down the stretch, they did enough things right here Tuesday night to come away with a 57-55 victory over Lemoore in the first round of the Southern California Regional Division III playoffs.
The Friars will meet Corona del Mar in a second-round game Thursday.
"I don't what it is, but in the final minutes it seems like our kids start making the big plays," Smith said. "It's just the way this team is. We'll usually play a poor first half, then run along with the other team in the third quarter. But the last three or four minutes are ours."
Servite (18-11) led, 48-47, with 3:33 left, but then made six of seven free throws to take a 53-47 lead.
It was a different twist for the Friars, who shot poorly from the foul line in the Southern Section 3-AA final against Estancia. Servite missed eight free throws in the fourth quarter against the Eagles and lost in overtime.
Tuesday night, the Friars nursed that lead before returning to their free-throw form. Leading, 57-52, Servite missed four one-and one opportunities in the final 37 seconds.
With 16 seconds left, Chris Tolbert sank a three-point field goal to cut the Servite lead to 57-55. Lemoore (22-9) fouled immediately, sending Adam Anderson to the line.
Anderson missed, but Servite's Mike Coady grabbed the rebound. After Eddie Rubio missed the front end of a one-and-one, Tolbert grabbed the rebound.
However, Coady forced him into a turnover and the Friars had their victory.
"Mike Coady just decided he wasn't going to let us lose this ball game," Smith said.
The Friars played strong defense, shutting down Lemoore's inside game. Jimmy Moore, Lemoore's 6-foot-6 center, had only three field goals. Moore did, however, score 16 points, his season average, with 10 coming on free throws. Gene Smith, the Tigers' other inside player, had only three field goals and finished with 11 points. Neither Moore nor Smith were factors inside.
Steve Marusich was. Marusich scored 17 points, six in the fourth quarter. He also had eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
"That's just Steve," Smith said. "We kind of expect that out of him every game."
With their inside game cut off, Lemoore went outside. The Tigers made seven three-point field goals.
Charlie Jones, who scored 15 points, made four three-point field goals.
Outside shooting helped give Lemoore a 26-23 halftime lead.
"The scouting report we got said that we shouldn't let them drive to the basket," Smith said. "It was supposed to be better to let them shoot from the outside. They come out and, boom, hit a three-pointer. We made a few adjustments at halftime."
The Friars brought their defense further out to keep the Tigers from attempting three-point field goals. For the most part, it worked. Lemoore had no three-pointers in the third quarter.