LAKE FOREST -- With 17 seniors on his team, Friday night wasn't the first time Capistrano Valley boys' basketball coach Brian Mulligan has said "they're supposed to do that."
But they did that again. They showed their composure and defeated Lake Forest El Toro, 52-49, inside a hostile gym. It helped Capo Valley take another step toward a South Coast League title as they improved to 20-2 overall, 6-0 in league.
El Toro, ranked No. 5 to Capo's No. 1 in the Southern Section Division 1A rankings, dropped to 18-6, 2-3.
This time the Cougars showed their experience by winning without their starting point guard, Nick Thomas, who injured his knee on Tuesday in practice. One doctor said it could sideline him for several weeks. Mulligan thinks it's a bruised kneecap. When Capo defeated El Toro 68-50 on Jan. 6, Thomas scored 26.
Aleks Lipovic moved from shooting guard to the point, and Danny Portillo stepped into the shooter's role. Coincidentally, Portillo scored three points -- same as the margin of victory.
Lipovic was much more prevalent on the score sheet. He tallied 19 points as Capo Valley withstood a three-point barrage of baskets in the third quarter that turned a 10-point deficit into a four-point lead, 36-32. Cody White had eight of his 18 points in the third quarter and a pair of treys, and Ryan Roberts had the last two three-pointers in a 18-4 run that lasted a little more than four minutes.
After Roberts' shot gave El Toro a 36-32 lead with 3:22 left in the third, the Chargers went seven minutes without scoring.
Still, the El Toro pulled to 44-42 with 3:34 remaining, and 6-6 center Jordan Faison -- who had been plagued by foul trouble -- was in the game for the stretch run.
But Stephen Short scored five of his 11 points -- three from beyond the arc -- for a 49-44 lead with 1:20 remaining.
Roberts answered with five points, including a three-pointer with 19 seconds left to pull to 51-49.
However, Capo's Johnny Bates (nine points) made three of four free throws in the final 26 seconds, the last with 17 to go to make it 52-49.
Capo wasn't out of danger though, until Faison's three-point attempt with one second remaining bounced off the iron. Faison finished with five points.