PASADENA — Perhaps it was the fact that they were at home and were promised an opportunity to be at Ambassador gymnasium again Friday that was motivation enough for the members of the Maranatha High boys’ basketball team.
Or maybe it was simply that a roster with eight seniors did not want to conclude its season Wednesday evening.
For whatever reason, the Minutemen overcame a nine-point third-quarter deficit in pulling off an eventual 55-47 victory over visiting Costa Mesa in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA playoffs.
With the win, the Olympic League runner-up Minutemen (21-7) will host seventh-seeded Mission League runner-up Crespi (20-8) in Friday’s second round at 7 p.m.
“We didn’t want to go out in the first round. Nobody ever wants to lose in the first round,” said Maranatha senior Jeremy Major, who finished with a team-high 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals. “We had our seniors step up tonight. It’s always been a team effort this year with Brandon Pomroy, Jalen Jones, Michael DeMeester and all the seniors. I’m so proud of those guys.”
All four of the aforementioned players accounted for the Minutemen’s entire second-half scoring (30).
Maranatha took its biggest lead at 51-43 with 53 seconds remaining after two free throws from center DeMeester (eight points, 15 rebounds and four blocks).
However, eight seconds later, Costa Mesa’s Sean Comer was hit on the elbow in the process of attempting a three-pointer and sank two of three free throws with 45 seconds left to slice the Minutemen’s advantage to six points.
The Mustangs (10-17) further tightened the screws after a free throw from the Pepperdine-bound Major was followed by a layup from Costa Mesa’s Kyle Hefner with 22 seconds left that brought the visitors within 52-47.
Yet, after Pomroy was fouled two seconds later and sank one free throw, the Mustangs missed a three-point try the other way, which sealed the game.
“The seniors on this team have a responsibility to lead,” said Pomroy, who finished with 15 points. “We struggled in the third quarter and we had to come back.”
One of the game’s turning points came with four minutes left in the third when Major was called for his third personal foul and was pulled by Maranatha Coach Tim Godley with the Minutemen up, 29-25.
“The way the game was being called, I didn’t want him to get his fourth foul,” Godley said. “We had a four-point lead and then a two-point lead for a long time. As soon as we went down one, I put him back in.”
Without Major on the floor, the Mustangs scored seven unanswered points and took a 30-29 lead with 2:30 remaining on a three-pointer from Comer.
Overall, the Comer bucket was part of a Mustangs 13-0 run that was capped on a jumper from Hefner with 29 seconds remaining in the third that gave Costa Mesa a 38-29 advantage.
Perhaps Maranatha’s most important bucket of the quarter was a pull-up three from Major with 21 seconds left that closed the third quarter score at 38-32.
Major was then fouled on a three-point attempt to open the fourth and made all three free throws to bring the Minutemen within three.
An additional free throw from Major sandwiched in between threes from Pomroy capped Maranatha’s own 13-0 run in which it went up, 42-38, with 5:01 left in the fourth.