Santa Margarita with key Trinity win over visiting SJB

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Ca. – Even a piece of the Trinity League champion is well out of its reach with two league games left to play.

But the Santa Margarita High boys’ basketball team delivered a succinct message Wednesday night that it’s going to be quite a handful to deal with for any CIF Southern Section playoff opponent – including the Open Division.

Coach Jeff Reinert’s program took an important step toward a third consecutive spot in the SS Open Division playoff bracket with their 81-63 Trinity League victory over visiting St. John Bosco – another strong Open candidate.

Each starter scored at least 13 points for the Eagles (17-6 overall and 5-3 in league), forwards Max Agbonkpolo and Jordan Guest (PICTURED) leading the way with 19 and 18, respectively.

The Braves (18-6 and 4-4) beat the Eagles the first time around in league (75-70 on Jan. 12) and fell to them (82-80 on Dec. 30) in the third-place game of the Platinum Division of the Classic at Damien.

Even with four consecutive Trinity losses (sandwiched around wins over non-league foes St. Bernard and Blair), St. John Bosco’s resume for post-season play remains strong – either as one of the eight selections to the Open Division or a very high seed in Division I.

The Braves have wins over Crespi, Rancho Christian and Mater Dei, along with the one over the Eagles.

Only Bishop Montgomery and Etiwanda can claim as many high-quality wins against Southern Section opponents.

The Eagles can polish its “Open resume” Saturday when it takes on Corona Centennial at 1:15 in the second day of the 23rd Nike Extravaganza.

Wednesday night the score was tight for much of the first half, with the Braves holding their final advantage (at 30-28) on a 3-point from sophomore guard Josh Camper with 3:20 to go.

But the Eagles scored the final eight points of the first half, via a pull-up jumper and off-the-catch 3 by Jake Kyman (13 points, seven rebounds and six assists on the night), a free throw by reserve Chad Magyar, and a steal and dunk by Agbonkpolo (who went on to grab eight rebounds and collect four assists in the second half) just before the buzzer.

The Eagles rapidly extended that six-point advantage after intermission, getting seven points apiece from sophomore guard Ryan Evans (who finished with 13 points, three rebounds and four assists) and junior center Shengzhe Li (13 points and five rebounds), padding the lead to 21 points before Jalen Manson just beat the third-quarter buzzer with a 3 for the Braves.

The Braves got to within 12 points (at 62-50), behind juniors Joshua Adoh and Jonathan Salazar (who combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter), before Evans buried consecutive 3s to give his team an 18-point lead with just less than five minutes to go.

Four players scored from 11 to 14 points – led by Manson – for Coach Matt Dunn’s Braves, who have an early wakeup call Saturday morning:

They have an 8:30 a.m. Nike Extravaganza game with Los Alamitos.

The Eagles’ league title aspirations were all but stomped on by visiting Mater Dei (67-49) last Wednesday.

Spending a lot of time dwelling on the disappointment wasn’t an option, though, with another Trinity League foe (Servite) showing up at Santa Margarita two nights later.

“It was a tough one to lose,” said the 6-foot-8, Boston University-bound Guest, who grabbed nine rebounds to go with his 18 points against the Braves Wednesday night.

“But we knew we had to get refocused for Servite and the rest of the season. There is still a lot of basketball yet to play this season. And we want to close strong and get into the Open Division again.”

Two years ago – with Guest as a sophomore – the Eagles lost to Lonzo Ball and eventual unbeaten national champion Chino Hills.

Last season they lost a three-point decision in the second round to Bishop Montgomery, which went on win the Southern Section and State Open crowns.

Closing the season on a five-game winning streak (Servite last week to go with St. John Bosco and the clashes with Centennial Saturday, and JSerra and Orange Lutheran to close out Trinity play next week) would make the Eagles all but locks to get into the Open again – even with the field having shrunk from 16 to eight teams.

“It would be special to play in the Open Division three years in a row,” Guest said.

“And I know that, when we play like we’re capable, we can compete with anyone we’d play there.”

And Guest and his teammates certainly looked the part Wednesday night.

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