Los Angeles Preps: Tustin

Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran won the Southern Section Division 1AA and 1A championships, respectively. Now, with only the state playoffs remaining, the two Trinity League teams -- ranked 1-2 at the beginning of the season -- are 1-2 again. Mater Dei never left its spot atop the perch, but Lutheran -- which lost four games while Gabe York was out with appendicitis -- has had to earn its way back to its rightful position.

1. Mater Dei (29-2): Top-seeded Monarchs won their 21st Southern Section championship with victory over Long Beach Poly, which has 19, led by Katin Reinhardt, Xavier Johnson and Stanley Johnson. Next: vs. Crescenta Valley, Wednesday.

2. Orange Lutheran (21-10): Lancers began the year ranked No. 2 behind Mater Dei, and after mid-season losses with Gabe York out, they finally return to their rightful spot with York leading the way to a 1A championship. Next: vs. L.A. Dorsey, Wednesday.

3. Mission Viejo (27-4): Top-seeded Diablos made a run at OLu, but Michael Cramer, Evan Zeller and Max Redfield had no answer for York. Next: at Del Mar Torrey Pines, Wednesday.

4. Capistrano Valley (25-5): Second-seeded Cougars had no answer for York or Payton Banks but 17 seniors still have a chance in the regional playoffs. Posted victories over Trabuco Hills. Next: at Long Beach Poly, Wednesday.

5. Ocean View (24-4): Sea Hawks had a bitterly disappointing run in the playoffs, but over the weekend coach Jim Harris was posthumously entered into the SCIBCA Hall of Fame. Posted victories over Aliso Niguel, Mission Viejo. Next: Season concluded.

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O.C.: Boys' basketball top 10

February, 26, 2012
In both Division 1AA and 1A, the top four seeds advanced to the semifinals. That means there will be some epic games on Tuesday, perhaps none sweeter than Capistrano Valley against Orange Lutheran. But if you're looking for a sweet ride, Sunny Hills is your team. The 11th-seeded Lancers have beaten two league champions, including third-seeded Riverside North.

1. Mater Dei (27-2): Top-seeded Monarchs reached the semifinals with win over Foothill, but it was the losing Knights who felt good about their performance. Next: vs. Long Beach Poly at Anaheim Arena, Tuesday.

2. Mission Viejo (26-3): Top-seeded Diablos needed overtime to beat Valencia West Ranch, but what's a little extra work to take another step toward the championship? Next: vs. Crescenta Valley, Tuesday.

3. Capistrano Valley (25-4): Second-seeded Cougars get a good start from Aleks Lipovic and roll into the semifinals. Next: at Orange Lutheran, Tuesday.

4. Orange Lutheran (19-10): Third-seeded Lancers get big efforts from Gabe York and Jordan Banks, but nearly blow 20-point lead to Corona. Next: vs. Capistrano Valley.

5. Ocean View (24-4): Long journey in the second round preceded obliteration of Sea Hawks' 18-game winning streak. A bitter defeat to Thousand Oaks, 82-65. Next: Season concluded.

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O.C.: Boys' basketball top 10

February, 20, 2012
Three Century League teams in Division 3AAA are history, but three others in higher divisions are still alive. Esperanza, seeded sixth in 3AAA, was upset by Lawndale in the second round and gets dropped from the top 10. For the moment, JSerra remains ahead of Tustin -- a team it beat previously -- but the Tillers can move up if they continue to win, and JSerra is going nowhere but down. Anaheim Canyon moves in. Ocean View has a big hurdle on Tuesday.

1. Mater Dei (25-2): Top-seeded Monarchs beat Temecula Chaparral in the first round as Xavier Johnson scoreD 17 against his former school. Next: vs. Palmdale, Tuesday.

2. Mission Viejo (24-3): Top-seeded Diablos cruised past La Sierra as Evan Zeller scored 17 and Max Redfield 13. Next: vs. Glendale, Tuesday.

3. Capistrano Valley (23-4): Second-seeded Cougars advance, and their chances of winning title are increased with the return of point guard Nick Thomas (knee), who scored 15 -- along with Aleks Lipovic -- in win over Marina. Next: vs. Walnut, Tuesday.

4. Orange Lutheran (17-11): Third-seeded Lancers get 24 points and a massive dunk from Arizona-bound Gabe York in 70-46 win over Dana Hills. Next: at Temecula Great Oak, Tuesday.

5. Ocean View (24-3): Sea Hawks won their 18th in a row as 7-footer Conor Clifford led the way with 19 points in 69-51 win over Redondo. Next: at Thousand Oaks, Tuesday.

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The first round of the Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs began Wednesday, and in Orange County, there were a few seeded teams that held form, and two underdogs from the Century League that showed their bite.

Leading the upsets was El Modena (9-18), which finished last in the Century League but took down sixth-seeded Rancho Alamitos (20-5), the champion of the Garden Grove League, 55-54. Austin Payne scored 18 points and Luke Volk 10 as the Vanguards overcame a 43-39 deficit heading into the fourth quarter of the 3AA contest.

In Division 3AAA, Brea Olinda (16-12), an at-large team that finished fifth in the seven-team Century League, scored a 60-50 victory at 10th-seeded Woodbridge (19-8) as Adam Williams scored 13 and Michael Turner 10. Brea pulled away with about three minutes remaining and the score tied at 48-48.

Several county teams that were favored held serve, including No. 5 Tustin, which defeated Sonora, 65-48, and No. 6 Esperanza, which defeated Covina South Hills, 73-47.

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The Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs begin for Orange County teams playing in the lower divisions on Wednesday. Here's a look at a few games that are worth watching. All games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Sonora (13-14) at Tustin (20-6), 3AAA: These teams opened the season against each other, and they were separated by only five points headed into the fourth quarter. Tustin won, 52-41, but it's interesting to note that Sonora shut out the Tillers in the third quarter. Could the Raiders channel that third-quarter defensive effort and stun the division? For what it's worth Sonora has the best-named player in the county, Jimmy Golden (16.1 ppg). The Raiders also lost eight games by six points or fewer -- and four by three or fewer, including 52-51 to an Anaheim Canyon team that a few weeks later beat Tustin, 68-40.

Brea Olinda (15-12) at Woodbridge (19-7), 3AAA: Coach Jeff Sink won all kinds of playoff games, including state championships, when he directed the Brea girls' program. This is his first season as coach of the boys, and it will be interesting to see what he can do here in an obvious underdog role. He was well-known for throwing all kinds of tricks at the opposition; can his magic work with boys as well? Woodbridge's three leading scorers are all sophomores, Michael Scarlett (11.7 ppg), Ali Lodin (10.0) and Jason Gregson (9.3).

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O.C.: Boys' basketball Top 10

January, 29, 2012
1. Mater Dei (19-2) — A 32-11 start in the first quarter held off Trinity League unbeaten St. John Bosco as Xavier Johnson and Katin Reinhardt scored 23 and 22, respectively. Next: at Orange Lutheran, Wednesday.

2. Capistrano Valley (20-2) — Point guard Nick Thomas is out with a knee injury but seasoned Cougars still beat El Toro behind Aleks Lipovic and a defense that shut down the Chargers for seven minutes. Next: at Trabuco Hills, Friday.

3. Mission Viejo (20-2) — Three of the Diablos' last five games have been decided by four points or fewer, the most recent an 80-76 victory over Aliso Niguel behind Sage Stone's 23 points. Next: vs. Tesoro, Friday.

4. JSerra (14-7) — Rebounded from four-point loss to St. John Bosco with wins over Servite and Cerritos Valley Christian. Next: vs. Santa Margarita, Wednesday.

5. Orange Lutheran (14-7)Gabe York returned to lineup and averaged 25 points in three games; Lancers stopped the bleeding with two Trinity League wins but lost a marquee game to Loyola, 92-84. Next: vs. Mater Dei, Wednesday.

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1. Mater Dei (17-2) — Blew away Middle Village (NY) Christ the King behind Xavier Johnson and Stanley Johnson and, after a slow start, did the same thing to JSerra in a Trinity League battle. Next: vs. Santa Margarita, Wednesday.

2. Capistrano Valley (19-2)Aleks Lipovic's three-pointer was the decisive blow to Mission Viejo's 18-game winning streak and South Coast League superiority. Next: at El Toro, Friday.

3. Mission Viejo (19-2) — Diablos long winning streak is history, but they can still salvage a share of the league title if they win out. Next: at Aliso Niguel, Friday.

4. JSerra (12-6) — Coming off win over Orange Lutheran, the Lions were hoping to make a better showing against Mater Dei; a 34-point loss indicates there's still work to do. Next: vs. St. John Bosco, Wednesday.

5. Orange Lutheran (12-6) — Without Gabe York (appendicitis) the losing streak reaches four games with setbacks to La Verne Lutheran and St. John Bosco; worse news, he may miss additional games when he's healthy for playing in an adult league game. Next: vs. Servite, Wednesday.

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1. Mater Dei (15-2) — Trailed early against Orange Lutheran before Johnson and Johnson -- Xavier and Stanley -- took over. Next: vs. Middle Village (NY) Christ the King, Monday.

2. Capistrano Valley (17-2)Aleks Lipovic hangs 19 on Aliso Niguel and 22 on Dana Hills as Cougars’ win fifth in a row to set up huge South Coast showdown. Next: vs. Mission Viejo, Wednesday.

3. Mission Viejo (18-1) — Diablos have won 18 in a row, but trailed by five in fourth quarter to El Toro before pulling out 76-72 win behind Evan Zeller's 31 points. Next: at Capistrano Valley, Wednesday.

4. JSerra (12-5) -- Lions take care of business against York-less OLu, and Devon Pflueger and Reece Lemon scored season highs against Santa Margarita. Next: vs. Mater Dei, Friday.

5. Orange Lutheran (12-4) -- With Gabe York out with appendicitis for a second week, the Lancers lose their big gun -- and two in a row, to Mater Dei and JSerra. Next: vs. La Verne Lutheran, Monday.

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O.C.: All-region football team

December, 28, 2011
Santa Margarita didn't win the Trinity League title, but the Eagles won something more valuable -- the Southern Section Pac-5 and State Division I Bowl championships. It gave coach Harry Welch his ninth section title and his third state title in six years, remarkably, with three different teams. With Johnny Stanton's leap into the end zone with 16 seconds remaining and the Eagles scoring a 42-37 victory over San Jose Bellarmine, we can put the season to bed. Here's a look at the All-Orange County team.


Jon Hamro, San Clemente -- He couldn't have stepped into a worse situation. Less than three weeks before the start of the season, head coach Eric Patton was relieved of his duties for his alleged involvement in a kickback scheme from a defunct sporting apparel company. With the microscope aimed at the Tritons (12-2), the team had its best season in history and reached the Pac-5 title game, its first championship appearance since 1979. Without great leadership and a deft transition of coaching, the team could of foundered; instead it triumphed.


QB -- Johnny Stanton, Santa Margarita, 6-3, 200, Jr. -- Over the final six weeks of the season, beginning with the season-ending 43-42 loss to Servite (by virtue of an overtime two-point conversion) in the Trinity League finale, Stanton couldn't be stopped. In succession, he faced the two-time defending champion Friars, Bishop Amat, Long Beach Poly, Mission Viejo, San Clemente and San Jose Bellarmine. Other quarterbacks had better numbers than Stanton's 13 TDs and nine interceptions, but Stanton's running ability (1,528 yards, 25 TDs) and leadership was the great equalizer. In five playoff games, he averaged 159 yards passing and threw six TD passes against one interception, and averaged 112 yards rushing with nine touchdowns. With the Division I Bowl championship on the line on fourth and one with 16 seconds remaining, Stanton scored -- the sixth touchdown he had a hand in -- to give his Eagles a 42-37 victory.


RB -- Ryan Wolpin, Santa Margarita, 5-9, 185, Jr. -- Wolpin was a touchdown machine for the Eagles. He scored 28 times, 27 while rushing. He averaged 109.1 yards per game, and 6.6 yards per carry, against a loaded schedule that was among the toughest in the nation.

RB -- Tyler Siudzinski, Tustin, 5-10, 185, Sr. -- Orange County's leading rusher as a junior, Siudzinski didn't match those numbers during his senior season but he did lead Tustin to its first section title since 1948. He rushed for 1,967 yards -- averaging 141 per game and 6.4 per carry -- and scored 21 touchdowns.

WR -- Brett Bartolone, La Habra, 5-10, 180, Sr. -- Bartolone was another one of those playmakers of the highest order. He caught 50 passes for eight touchdowns, and also rushed for 924 yards and nine touchdowns to help the Highlanders reach the Southwest semifinals.

WR -- Cody White, El Toro, 6-2, 175, Jr. -- White's inclusion is in part deference to quarterback Conner Manning, who broke Matt Barkley's single-season county record, with 4,219 yards and 41 touchdowns. Of those, White had 18 TDs among his 85 catches for 1,295 yards.

TE -- Christo Kourtzidis, Orange Lutheran, 6-4, 230, Sr. -- He wasn't the prolific receiver of another great OLu tight end, Blake Ayles, but CK was an outstanding blocker and made plenty of critical catches among his 38 receptions. Averaging 10.9 yards per catch, he has committed to Florida State.

OL -- Max Tuerk, Santa Margarita, 6-6, 254, Sr. -- On a team that started nine underclassmen on offense, the left tackle provided the senior leadership that helped the Eagles win the Pac-5 and State Division I Bowl championships. He committed to USC.

OL -- Kyle Murphy, San Clemente, 6-7, 275, Sr. -- The big left tackle may have played this season as the best player in the country to still be undecided on where he will play college; he is so good he will have his choice. Murphy paved the way for San Clemente (12-2) to average 166 yards passing, 226 rushing .

OL -- Travis Averill, Servite, 6-4, 280, Sr. -- You better be tough to excel in the Trinity League, and Averill is plenty tough; he was a starter on both previous Pac-5 championship teams and helped the Friars win a seventh consecutive league title before suffering its stunning upset loss to Tesoro in the second round.

OL -- Colby Cyburt, Mission Viejo, 6-5, 265, Sr. -- Part of a terrific offensive line that also featured Austin Maass, Cyburt led the way for the Diablos' balanced offense that averaged 202 yards passing and 150 rushing despite several injuries to key skill personnel.

OL -- Lomitusi Sasi, Tustin, 6-3, 300, Sr. -- The Tillers ran the ball 90 percent of the time, but they could do that knowing they had a strong offensive line anchored by Sasi. A two-way starter, he helped the unseeded team close with eight consecutive victories, including an upset of El Toro for the Southwest title.

K -- John McGrory, Santa Margarita, 6-2, 180, Sr. -- McGrory missed only two PATs all season, finally ending a Southern Section record streak of 106 in a row (over two years) in the first round of the playoffs. He was perfect on five field goal attempts, averaged 38 yards per punt and pinned opponents inside the 20 on nine of 24 punts.


DL -- Chris Frost, Santa Margarita, 6-4, 238, Sr. --Paired with Sean Donegan on the opposing end, the Eagles had two huge ends that made it difficult for opposing offenses to find success on the outside. Selected the Trinity League's MVP on defense, Frost had 12 1/2 sacks among his 99 tackles, forced four fumbles and recovered two.

DL -- Kyle Kelley, Woodbridge, 6-3, 215, Sr. -- Arizona commit followed up a junior season in which he had 19 sacks with a senior season in which he had 22 for the Warriors; also forced a fumble and recovered two. Had 18 tackles against Southern Division champion Corona del Mar.

DL -- Chazz Roberts, Tesoro, 6-0, 243, Jr. -- One of the 16 underclassmen who started for the Titans, Roberts recovered a pair of fumbles and led the defense with 8 1/2 sacks as the third-place Titans reached the Pac-5 semifinals with victories over league champions Edison and Servite.

LB -- Butch Pauu, Servite, 5-11, 220, Sr. -- A three-year starter for the two-time Pac-5 champion Friars, Pauu was among the county's most devastating hitters. He also emerged this season as a legit offensive threat receiving the ball. He committed to BYU.

LB -- Ricky Ortiz, Mater Dei, 6-2, 220, Sr. -- A combination of size, speed and strength made Ortiz the Monarchs' defensive playmaker. A three-year starter, he always had to be accounted for, which was easier said than done because he was so active on defense -- and so good.

LB -- Aaron Porter, La Habra, 6-2, 235, Sr. -- All you need to know about Porter is that in a game against Servite he had his way with the Friars. A UCLA commit, Porter had 11 1/2 sacks on his way to setting a school record for tackles, forced five fumbles and intercepted two passes. He also played offense and rushed for 865 yards and 17 TDs.

LB -- Ryan Harris, Mission Viejo, 5-10, 210, Sr. --Another one of the county's big hitters, Harris had 123 tackles, including three sacks, forced four fumbles and recovered two, and also had two interceptions for the Pac-5 semifinalist.

DB -- Connor O'Brien, Santa Margarita, 6-2, 162, Jr. -- Pressure applied up front paid dividends in the defensive backfield as O'Brien led the county with eight interceptions. He was an aggressive safety in on 91 tackles and forced two fumbles. His eight picks and 15 breakups set school records.

DB -- Christian Tober, San Clemente, 5-9, 175, Sr. -- Tober has big-play speed, and would be underutilized on an all-county team if he wasn't also returning kicks; he had a 34.1 average. He had four interceptions, forced two fumbles, and also blocked three field goals. On offense, he caught 23 passes and averaged 26.6 yards per reception.

DB -- Max Redfield, Mission Viejo, 6-3, 195, Jr. -- Redfield has Blue Chip written all over him. An outstanding athlete he has all-county wide receiver potential as well. He had 91 tackles and three interceptions, and already received an offer from USC.

DB -- Anthony Pierce, Mission Viejo, 5-9, 170, Sr. -- Outstanding cover man was chosen South Coast League co-MVP on defense along with teammate Harris. He forced four fumbles and had three interceptions on a defense that allowed 42.5 percent of its points in the fourth quarter -- by which time the game was usually under control.

P -- Sean Wale, La Habra, 6-0, 155, Sr. -- Averaged 45.3 yards, and in his final game against El Toro where field position was played such a crucial role he averaged 50.7. Also kicked eight field goals, including a 52-yarder.

O.C.: The final Top 10

December, 19, 2011
With Santa Margarita's victory at the Home Depot Center, the season is officially over. Despite their loss to Mater Dei in the Trinity League opener, the Eagles are an easy choice for No. 1. After that it gets a little tougher, mostly because of Servite's stunning loss to Tesoro in the second round; all year long the Friars were the best team, and had a victory over Santa Margarita to prove it. If they were to play next week, most people would still expect a Servite victory; nevertheless, we're flipping Servite and Tesoro to reflect the Titans' head-to-head victory even though Servite's body of work is superior. Upon reflection, the lower part of the ranking gets an adjustment as well. For kicks, we added an additional five teams to the end-of-the-year rankings.

1. (1) Santa Margarita (13-2)
Eagles QB Johnny Stanton passed for four touchdowns and ran for two more, the last with 16 seconds left on fourth down, to win the State Division I Bowl Championship. Despite the so-called "bad" loss to Mater Dei, Eagles have victories over Tesoro, Carson, Los Alamitos, Trabuco Hills, Orange Lutheran, St. John Bosco, Bishop Amat, Long Beach Poly, Mission Viejo and San Clemente. Last: beat San Jose Bellarmine 42-36.

2. (2) Mission Viejo (10-3)
Diablos have victories over Long Beach Poly, Carson, San Clemente, Tesoro, Trabuco Hills and Huntington Beach.

3. (3) San Clemente (12-2)
Tritons have victories over Carlsbad La Costa Canyon, Mater Dei, Newport Harbor, Trabuco Hills, Tesoro (twice), Lakewood and St. John Bosco.

4. (5) Tesoro (8-5)
Titans have victories over Hart, Narbonne, Trabuco Hills, Edison and Servite.

5. (4) Servite (10-2)
Friars have victories over Oceanside, Bishop Amat, La Habra, Edison, Orange Lutheran, St. John Bosco, Mater Dei and Santa Margarita.

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1. What can you say about Santa Margarita quarterback Johnny Stanton? over the last five weeks, Servite couldn't stop him, Long Beach Poly couldn't stop him, Mission Viejo couldn't stop him, and San Clemente couldn't stop him. He may not even be the best quarterback in Orange County -- El Toro's Conner Manning certainly looks the part with more than 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns -- but Stanton is the player of the year in Orange County.

2. Myron Miller has been coaching for 42 years, but Tustin's 35-28 Southwest Division victory Saturday afternoon in an upset of third-seeded El Toro was his first outright championship in seven finals appearances. He tied for one while at Ramona in the San Diego Section, but lost in the final at Costa Mesa and three times at Tustin before riding a physical defense and a ball control offense to victory at Angel Stadium. Edward Tandy's interception for a touchdown was huge, as were a pair of scores by Terence Martinez and Tyler Siudzinski. But you really have to admire Miller's commitment to his team; twice on the final five minutes -- in an effort to keep the ball away from El Toro -- he called on his offense to convert fourth down opportunities inside its own 30. That's faith in your team. Said Miller: "I'm going to do this until I'm 80." After reaching the finals three times in the last four years, it was good to see him win, finally.

3. What a surprise that Santa Margarita was selected to the Division I Bowl Championship. Santa Margarita had two losses, and the feeling outside the heads of the 10 commissioners who chose the Bowl participants was that undefeated Bakersfield would likely get the nod if not Vista Murrieta (undefeated on the field but with five forfeits), that Santa Margarita's loss to Mater Dei in the Trinity League opener would be a killer. It wasn't, even though commissioners haven't always given strength of schedule the credit it's due. It creates one terrific backstory: Eagles' coach Harry Welch has a chance to win his third Bowl game in six years with three different teams. He won with Canyon Country Canyon in 2005 with another two-loss team that upset Concord De La Salle in the Division I Bowl (before they had the Open game), and with San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret's in 2008 in the Small School Bowl. If he succeeds, this is a milestone that likely will never be broken. For what it's worth, Welch has no plans to move on to a fourth team.

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O.C.: Boys' basketball Top 10

December, 6, 2011
It's generally accepted that the third-best team in Orange County to begin the season is Capistrano Valley. Well, the Cougars have already played Mater Dei, and were beaten 91-55. That's the kind of disparity we're talking about when considering the strength of the Monarchs.

A year ago, the team was supposed to be in rebuilding mode, but the talent took over and though the Monarchs did not win a Southern Section title, they did go on to win the state title. That's a state record-tying eight banners for coach Gary McKnight, and he should get his ninth with this group. If he doesn't, it will be a surprise to everyone. Mater Dei opened the season ranked sixth in the nation by ESPNHS.

McKnight comes into the season with an 860-79 record in a 28-year career. The Monarchs have won 19 section titles and eight state titles. Come March, that should change.

1. Mater Dei (32-3 in 2010-11)
Who’s coming back:
Nine of the top 10 players from last season return, including outstanding senior guards Xavier Johnson (Colorado) and Katin Reinhardt (UNLV). Also back is sophomore Stanley Johnson, who showed last season that he is eventually going to be a star, probably sooner rather than later. Eli Stalzer is also one of the top seniors in Orange County. The Monarchs are loaded.
Key additions/losses: In theory, David Brown is a big loss. He made plays when it counted last season, but the reality is that there is so much returning talent, Brown’s absence might hardly be noticed. Entering the program is another Brown who is no relation: Elijah Brown, the son of new Lakers coach Mike Brown.
Last season: Mater Dei was young last year and were beaten in the Division 1AA semifinals by Corona Centennial, 60-58. The Monarchs avenged that loss and went on to win the Division I state title.
Why they will be good: Mater Dei has all the talent. They have playmakers, they have depth, and they have experience. Although you hate to put this kind of pressure on high school boys, anything short of a state title and this season is an absolute failure. Seriously.

2. Orange Lutheran (27-7)
Who’s coming back: Senior guards Gabe York (6-2) and Payton Banks (6-5) are among the most skilled players in the state at their positions. York, who has signed with Arizona, averaged 19.2 points, and Banks 11.6. Junior forward Darien Williams (6-8) also returns to the starting lineup.
Key additions/losses: Lutheran is going to miss guard James Douglas (Northern Arizona), who averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 assists and was terrific in the playoffs. Freshmen Kendall Lauderdale (6-6) and Jonathan Ross (6-7) should be able to contribute right away.
Last season: The Lancers finished second to Mater Dei in the Trinity League and won the Division 4AA championship.
Why they will be good: One of Lutheran’s most memorable performance last season was a 59-56 victory over Mater Dei in the first round of Trinity League play. Let’s say that again: OLu beat Mater Dei, and three starters are back from that team, including York.

3. Capistrano Valley (24-8)
Who’s coming back: The cupboard isn’t bare this season as guards Nick Thomas (13 points) and Aleks Lipovic (10.4 points, 40 three-pointers), forward Stephen Short (7.6 points, 4.4 rebounds) and 6-9 center Chris Bench (4.1 points, 7.1 rebounds) return this season.
Key additions/losses: Make no mistake, the graduation of Taylor Hamasaki (13.3 points, 84 three-pointers) hurts; the guard -- now at Chapman -- was the go-to player when the season was on the line.
Last season: Finished second to Mission Viejo in the South Coast League; lost in the Division 1A championship to top-seeded Loyola, 74-58.
Why they will be good: As good as Hamasaki was, he didn’t truly assert himself until the stretch run and the playoffs, meaning his teammates got plenty of experience on their way to the 1A title game.

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1. You can't say that Conner Manning's performance against La Habra in which he finally eclipsed Matt Barkley's county single-season passing record came cheap. Manning completed 32 of 49 passes for 465 yards and two touchdowns as El Toro upset second-seeded La Habra, 47-41, in the Southwest Division semifinal. Manning needed 88 yards to match Barkley's 3,560 set in his junior season in 2007. Manning, a junior, now has 3,946 and leads the Chargers into the finals for the first time since 1995 when they defeated Servite for the Division V championship. Manning wasn't the only offense: Jacob Furnari carried 36 times for 231 yards and four touchdowns. Cody White and Blake Murphy both had nine receptions, for 109 and 103 yards, respectively.

2. Kudos to La Habra for going out like a champion. Trying to win its fifth consecutive title,a first for an Orange County team, the Highlanders set a standard for other teams in the division and gained considerable respect among higher division teams for playing opponents such as Servite, Orange Lutheran and St. John Bosco. Trailing 41-13 with 1:07 left in the third quarter, La Habra pulled to 47-41 behind Aaron Porter's three touchdowns; had it recovered its third consecutive onside kick with 3:31 left in the game (the ball went out of bounds) it might have been a different outcome. Instead, Manning had possession and El Toro ran out the clock -- and ended La Habra's drive for five.

3. Reporters at Santa Margarita's 21-20 victory over Mission Viejo in the Pac-5 semifinal began discussing the Orange County player of the year. Although Servite's Cody Pittman and Santa Margarita's Johnny Stanton appeared to be frontrunners early in the season (Pittman losing in the second round almost certainly destroyed his chances) and there has been talk that a lineman such as San Clemente's Kyle Murphy might be a deserving choice, El Toro's Manning was bandied about after his big night against La Habra.

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O.C.: Games of the week

December, 2, 2011
No. 6 Santa Margarita (10-2) at No. 2 Mission Viejo (10-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports West
This Pac-5 semifinal is as good as any championship game. Mission knocked Santa Margarita out of the playoffs last year, 31-28, and went on to the section finals where it lost to Servite. The second-seeded Diablos will try do it again riding the legs of Buzzy Yokoyama; though injured much of the season, Yokoyama (12 TDs, 112 yards/game) has shown in six games that he is a huge threat. He rarely goes down on the first hit, and he will be even more dangerous now that quarterback Alex Bridgford (23 TDs, 15 int., 208 yards/game) seems to be dialed in. That wasn't always the case this season. The pressure is on the Mission defense to control quarterback Johnny Stanton (22 TDs), who ran wild against Servite, who ran wild against Long Beach Poly, and who is fully capable of running wild against Mission. Stanton is averaging 98.7 yards rushing, and though his passing numbers aren't eye-popping (62.4 percent, 8 TDs, 8 int., 161 yards/game) he can still make the big play with talented receivers. Running back Ryan Wolpin (24 TDs, 115 yards/game) is no slouch either. The last two Servite quarterbacks to beat Mission in the playoffs, Cody Fajardo and Cody Pittman, were dual-threat QBs like Stanton. Both head coaches, Bob Johnson (265-91-1) for Mission and Harry Welch (246-54-2) for Santa Margarita, are among the best around.

No. 9 San Clemente (11-1) vs. No. 12 Tesoro (8-4) at Orange Coast College, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Tesoro beat top-seeded Servite last week, 24-20, so throw out everything the Titans have done this season and focus on what they bring to the table right now. Actually, one might look at their run over the past four weeks. They gave away a 14-7 loss to Mission Viejo, and the following week were flat in a 31-6 loss to San Clemente. Then they beat fourth-seeded Alemany, then Servite. Their emotional health going into this game against San Clemente vs. the last game with San Clemente will be night and day. Matt Adam (8 TDs, 6 int., 83 yards/game) must have a good outing so that Mission cannot gang up on the run game, which features Nate Tago (12 TDs, 103 yards/game) or Blake Rodgers -- who was the difference-maker when he sparked Tesoro's victory from a 20-3 deficit to Servite after replacing the injured Tago. The defense will have its hands full because San Clemente is among the most balanced teams in the playoffs, featuring a strong offensive line led by Kyle Murphy that protects runner Mike Elespuru (13 TDs, 118 yards/game) and Utah-bound quarterback Travis Wilson (21 TDs, 7 int., 158 yards/game). To a lot of people, San Clemente's second-round victory over St. John Bosco, 42-24, was an upset too; the Tritons hadn't won a playoff game since 2005, but three of the four semifinalists -- including Tesoro and San Clemente -- are from the South Coast League instead of the Trinity League. And, if you're looking for motivation, San Clemente might have the edge; this is the team that had their coach, Eric Patton, removed just weeks before the season for his alleged role in a kickback scheme with a now defunct athletic apparel company. Coached by Jon Hamro, the team has been playing for Patton as much as themselves.

El Toro (11-1) at No. 23 La Habra (9-3), Friday, 7 p.m.
This Southwest Division game actually has a Pac-5 kind of intrigue to it in Orange County. El Toro brings a no-huddle offense and a prolific passing attack into the game with junior Conner Manning (35 TDs, 5 int.), who is 88 yards from matching Matt Barkley's single-season county passing record (3,560 yards). La Habra has faced the no-huddle of Servite, and it's faced a terrific passing game in St. John Bosco, but the combination might catch the La Habra off guard early as it gets used to the pace. Then again, El Toro -- which has averaged 43.9 points and hasn't lost since a season-opening 23-21 setback to Huntington Beach -- hasn't seen a defense like La Habra's or a player like linebacker Aaron Porter. There's plenty at stake for La Habra; the Highlanders are trying to win a fifth consecutive title, but they won't get the chance if they don't contain Manning.

Foothill (8-4) at Tustin (9-3), Friday, 7 p.m.
These two rivals play each other annually and use Tustin High as a home field, so this game is huge. This is 50th meeting and at stake is a spot in the Southwest Division finals. Tustin has won the three previous playoff games between the schools (the last in 2000), as well as the last three games, including 27-14 in the season opener. It's the first time these teams have met as deep as the semifinals. Tustin's Tyler Siudzinski (19 TDs, 141 yards/game) rushed for 152 yards in a 35-7 victory over top-seeded Villa Park, and Foothill's Jack Gilchrist (12 TDs, 11 int., 112 yards/game) threw a 32-yard TD pass and scored on a three-yard run in the last 2 1/2 minutes to beat fourth-seeded Cypress, 34-24.

Beckman (10-2) at Estancia (10-2), Friday, 7 p.m.
When they played earlier this season, top-seeded Beckman scored a 12-10 victory but did so without their best offensive threat, Jeff Kim (22 TDs, 138 yards/game). Fourth-seeded Estancia -- which has since won seven in a row -- was down a few players too, although not junior running back Robert Murtha (19 TDs, 165 yards/game). Beckman beat Estancia in the first round last season, 56-22. In the semifinals for the first time in school history, will the pressure to reach the Southern Division finals be too much for Estancia? Beckman is trying to return to the finals after losing last year's title game to Garden Grove in an Instant Classic.

Corona del Mar (10-2) at Laguna Beach (10-2) Friday, 7 p.m.
Second-seeded Corona del Mar has appeared to be on a collision course with Beckman all season, but Laguna Beach is a dangerous opponent that defeated third-seeded Segerstrom, 51-40. Powered by Drake Martinez (27 TDs, 145 yards/game), the Breakers have averaged 47.8 points; their last loss was 63-47 to Costa Mesa. Behind quarterback Brent Lawson (25 TDs, 10 int.), CdM has scored at least 31 points in its last six games, and at least 42 points in its last four.
1. Tesoro's victory over Servite in the second round of the Pac-5 playoffs was as surprising an outcome as there has been in this postseason. It was Tesoro that turned in a very Servite-like performance in knocking off the state's No. 2-ranked team (and No. 21 nationally). In the end, it was all about the defense. Tesoro limited Servite's running attack to fewer than three yards per carry (31 carries for 89 yards) and intercepted three passes (Cody Pittman had thrown only two all season) -- not to mention the fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Jay Perez one minute after Blake Rodgers scored on the opening drive of the second half. Perez's TD made it 20-17, the defense prevented Servite from scoring in the second half, and Rodgers' second score -- a 51-yard run in the fourth quarter-- ended Servite's reign as two-time champion.

2. Trabuco Hills boys and San Clemente girls won State Division 1 cross country titles in Fresno. Trabuco had its five scoring runners finish in the top 35. The Mustangs were so strong that only 30 seconds separated ninth-place Jared Hazlett (15 minutes 25 seconds) from 34th Max Moncur (15:55). The combined time of the top five runners (78:12.30) on the 3.1-mile layout was seven seconds faster than the next-closest team from any of the five divisions, Arcadia. San Clemente won behind sophomore Melissa Eisele, who finished 13th; the Tritons' five scoring runners included two freshmen. Also winning a title, in Division V, was St. Margaret's boys and individual champion Billy Gaudreau, who won his second in a row. JSerra's girls won the Division IV title behind Brooke Kunzelman and Ashley Geisler, who finished 20th and 21st.

3. Conner Manning of El Toro has passed for 3,472 yards this season, and should break the Orange County record on Friday against La Habra; needing just 88 yards to reach the total set by Matt Barkley (Mater Dei), who graduated in 2009. If Manning (35 TDs, 5 int.) doesn't reach the record, then the Chargers will be in a mess of hurt. The junior passed for a season-best 444 yards and five touchdowns in a first-round victory over Esperanza, and on Friday passed for 332 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-30 victory over Yorba Linda. He passed for fewer than 217 yards only once, when he passed for 161 and two touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Schurr. Manning's favorite target, Cody White, has 70 receptions and 13 touchdowns.

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