Eric Ambrozich continued his quest Monday night to become the go-to guy for the Irvine basketball team. It's a role that's beginning to make opposing teams uncomfortable.
Less than a week after pulling a vanishing act in the Sea View League opener, Ambrozich was back, bigger than ever. He scored 10 of his 20 points in the final five minutes, as the Vaqueros pulled away for a 51-39 victory over Woodbridge at Irvine.
"It's not an easy task to take on, the responsibility hasn't been easy for him," Irvine Coach Steve Keith said. "Eric's a pretty shy kid."
Ambrozich, a 6-foot-7 center, certainly shrank from the spotlight in the loss to Tustin; he didn't even take a shot in the fourth quarter. But he followed with a 21-point performance Friday against Saddleback, scoring 15 of his points in the second half to rally the Vaqueros from nine points down.
On Monday, Ambrozich's star continued to rise. He hit three consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter. The Vaqueros (12-3, 2-1) extended their lead from 37-31 to 43-33 during that stretch.
Ambrozich then made four free throws in the final 1:14 to keep Warriors (8-5, 2-1) at a safe distance.
"We can't forget about Eric in key situations," Keith said. "We have to put the ball in his hand and make the other team try to stop him."
Woodbridge did just that in the first half. Ambrozich was in foul trouble and scored only six points.
The Warriors, who have no players taller than 6-3, took advantage of his absence. They were coming off back-to-back victories against two of the league's hopeful teams and were looking to step up a level by beating Irvine, which is ranked seventh in Orange County.
For a half, the Warriors moved in stride with the taller Vaqueros. They were within 23-22 at halftime, thanks to their pressure defense and good outside shooting.
But Woodbridge went cold and Irvine went inside in the second half.
In other games:
Corona del Mar 54, Saddleback 48--Todd Merriman scored 17 points for visiting Corona del Mar (8-6, 1-2). Saddleback is 4-10, 0-3.
Newport Harbor 58, Santa Margarita 57--Eric Vallely scored 20 points for Newport Harbor (9-6, 2-1). Bryan Young had 16 points for Santa Margarita (11-3, 2-1).
Tustin 82, University 72--Doug Gottlieb had 21 points and 14 assists for visiting Tustin (12-3, 3-0).