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Trabuco Hills Ends Villa Park's Rare Postseason Trip

February 17, 1996|PAUL McLEOD

Kevin Reynolds looked onto the court midway through the second half Friday night at Villa Park and saw a frightening look on the faces of his players. It's the look that causes all coaches to shudder during tight games.

Villa Park, making its first playoff appearance since the mid-'70s, was playing not to lose. As is often the case when teams play like that, the Spartans did lose.

Trabuco Hills got 20 points from guard Nick Punto and the Mustangs made 21 of 27 free throw while rallying to win, 47-39, in the first round of the Southern Section Division II-AA playoffs.

Villa Park was cruising, leading 25-16 with about four minutes to go in the third quarter after a driving layup by Matt Poutsma.

But Punto, playing with three fouls, took matters into his own hands. He scored 10 of the Mustangs' 12 points in the final three minutes of the quarter. His layup with five seconds left gave Trabuco Hills its first lead, 28-27. Villa Park was permanently rattled.

Punto opened the fourth quarter by making Trabuco Hills' first six points. Suddenly, the Mustangs led, 36-29. Villa Park cut its deficit to 40-37 with 2:22 to play, but the shaken Spartans never got off a good shot after that.

"We didn't respond to adversity very well," said Reynolds, who guided Villa Park to its first winning record in two decades. "They picked up the level of play and we didn't respond. We dug a hole too deep to get out of."

Burly center Dan Mertins drew the task of guarding Villa Park's 7-foot center Eric Chenowith and Mertins did an admirable job, with a little help from his teammates.

Chenowith was double- and triple-teamed, with Mertins squarely in the small of his back throughout the game. Chenowith scored 10 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots, but he was largely ineffective in the post area. He made just four of 14 shots.

"I didn't want him to go baseline, because I didn't want him to dunk on me," the 6-5 Mertins said. "Every time he had the ball we covered down on him and he couldn't go inside."

Trabuco Hills, making its eighth consecutive playoff appearance, made 13 of 17 free throws down the stretch. The Mustangs will play Palm Springs, a 68-56 winner over Imperial Valley Central Union, Tuesday in the second round of the playoffs.

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