Los Angeles Preps: Darien Washington

The plight of Orange Lutheran boys' basketball team over the last month has been almost epic. Their star player, Arizona-bound guard Gabe York, got appendicitis and the team -- ranked No. 2 in Orange County at the time -- went into the tank on the scoreboard. The Lancers lost seven of nine, including five in a row. All those were to terrific teams, including the last three to the top three-ranked teams in the state, Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly and Los Angeles Loyola.

But OLu (15-9, 5-4) got a shot in the arm on Tuesday that quelled the hemorrhaging. The Lancers avenged a loss to JSerra with a 66-51 Trinity League victory in San Juan Capistrano. The Lions won the first meeting, 67-52, in the second game that OLu played without York. It's no ordinary nine-loss team.

This contest was interesting because the score was close, JSerra holding a 47-46 lead, until OLu's late push that allowed it to forge a third-place tie with the Lions. Notable is that York didn't make a field goal until fewer than four minutes remained in the third quarter. He finished with a modest 12 points. However, Payton Banks scored 24 and Darien Williams scored 21, including 11 in the fourth quarter.

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The word on the street is that Orange Lutheran has reloaded. And they’re big.

But the first point of business is to hang on to the ball. Lutheran averaged four turnovers in its five losses last season, which kept the Lancers out of the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Coach Jim Kunau says he thinks his team’s fortunes rest with the offensive line, which returns four starters: juniors John Lopez (6-5, 315) and Colin Sutton (6-4, 290), and seniors Cody Littlefield (5-10, 245) and Jordan Briggs. (6-4, 255).

If those guys have a great season and there is a solid performance by one of the two quarterbacks battling to be the starter — strong-armed sophomore Ian Fieber (rhymes with Bieber) or speedy senior running threat Conner Sullivan — then Lutheran may return to the form that landed it the 2006 State Bowl Championship. It's an uphill battle, though.

"We probably would be more highly thought of in another league," said Kunau, whose program is 176-48-3 during his tenure. "I think this is the best the Trinity League has ever been. The playoffs begin in Week 6."

Here is a closer look at the Lancers:

Team: Orange Lutheran

Coach: Jim Kunau, 19th year

2010 Record: 5-5, didn’t qualify for the Southern Section Pac-5 playoffs

Returning starters: 14 total. Eight on offense. Six on defense.

Key players on offense: TE Cristo Kourtzidas (Florida State), OL John Lopez, RB Jabari Wilson.

Key players on defense: FS Darien Washington (Washington), DB/OLB Deion Williams (Duke), CB Jordan Greenwood, OLB Grant Gunnison.

Difference maker: The fiery Williams is the tide that lifts all boats in the Lancers' lineup, the player others look to. He is one of the finest leaders in the history of the program — and he's a player.

Newcomers: None, although Kunau projects that Wilson will have a breakout season.

Not to be missed: Orange Lutheran vs. Santa Margarita at Saddleback College, Oct. 21. A week after playing Servite and a week before playing Mater Dei, the Lancers have a chance to make waves — and a statement — if they can upset Santa Margarita. A victory in this game would go a long way toward returning to the playoffs, not only because of what it represents in the standings, but the confidence and momentum it could provide thereafter.

Coach’s comment: "We're not huge on defense, but we're quick," Kunau said. "I feel like we have a really good team, and I feel real good about our team and senior class and senior leadership. We just can’t do what we did last year as far as turnovers. If we can play normal football — and for us that means not turning the ball over four or five times — we should be in most games."

Final analysis: Orange Lutheran missed the playoffs last season for the first time in Kunau's 18 seasons. The Lancers are No. 17 in the Southland, but projected to finish fifth in the Trinity League. That's why the league has the reputation it has. Only the top three teams in the league will qualify for the postseason. Lutheran must get solid production from its QB. The Lancers have the size to be physical, but they have to take advantage of it against physical opponents.