BBK: Chargers grind out a 2nd-round CIF win over Elsinore

Fourth-seeded Elsinore learned that you don’t want to get into a grind-it-out basketball game against Dos Pueblos.

The Chargers are masters of playing a gritty, half-court game. They played it Tuesday night and pulled out a 49-48 victory in the second round of the CIF Division 2A playoffs at Sovine Gym.

Dos Pueblos (17-9) advances to Friday’s quarterfinals, where it will play at Tesoro in Orange County.

Dos Pueblos, which this season has won 13 games when it holds a team under 50 points, played a tight zone defense against the Tigers (21-8), making it difficult for them to get into an offensive flow.

“I told them the further you want to go (in the playoffs), you have to play defense,” DP coach Joe Zamora said. “The offense is going to come. We’re basketball players, we can score, but if we can hold teams in that 40 range we can be successful.”

After leading by just one (39-38) after three quarters, the Chargers built a 49-41 lead with 3:29 to go in the game. Gerry Perez stole the ball and fed Cruz Mertens for a layup to put DP up by eight.

Elsinore would fight back. Tommy Wilson hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Deven Riley made pair of free throws and Reynaldo Solorzano scored on a second effort to make it a one-point game, 49-48, with 1:32 to go in regulation.

Dos Pueblos had a couple of possessions to create some breathing room. On the first one, Perez was called for an offensive foul. Zach Shugart stole the ball to give the Chargers another opportunity. Chris Williams dribbled off 25 seconds before calling a time out. When play resumed, Shugart drove in the lane and got off a shot that rolled around the rim and fell out.

Elsinore got the rebound and pushed the ball up court. Preston Beverly drove the lane and fed Allan Stubbs whose layup attempt fell off the rim. The Tigers scrambled to retrieve the rebound with 11 seconds to go and called time out. Riley got the inbound pass and fed Stubbs, who drove to the basket but couldn’t convert. Zajic grabbed the rebound as time ran out.

DP students rushed the floor to celebrate with the last playoff survivor from the Channel League.

“They did get a look, but our guys finished the defense like we asked them to by getting the defensive rebound, and that was a big thing for us,” said Zamora.

Mertens led DP with 18 points, including four 3-pointers in the first half (three in a row in the second quarter), that helped the Chargers take a 33-28 halftime lead.

Mertens showed that he’s fully recovered from an ankle injury he suffered during the second round of
Channel League play.

“He’s close to 100 percent and now the confidence is there,” Zamora said. “Tonight, I have to give it up to him. He did some great things defensively. He really stepped up when he needed to.”

“I’m just trying my hardest,” said Mertens, who is in the playoffs for the first time in his DP career.

Zach Shugart hit a pair of 3s and finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

But it was the points and the defense from the grinders who made this victory possible for DP. CJ Zajic pounded his way inside and got to the free-throw line, where he scored six points. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Devon Ray came off the bench and scored four of his seven points during an 11-0 run in the last 1:30 of the second quarter to rally the Chargers from seven-point deficit; Perez tallied four points and Erik Olsen came off the bench to hit a big 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter.

Zajic and Ray also did a solid job defensively on Elsinore’s standout post player Solorzano in the second half. He score just six points in the second half and two in the fourth quarter.

“We put a little more body pressure on him,” Zamora said. “CJ and Devon did a great job on him. We did a little bit of switching. We were able to take away what he wanted to do.”

Riley, a high jumping 6-2 forward, scored 18 points for Elsinore, and Solorzano finished with 16.

“I’m proud of our Charger players,” Zamora said. ” We said we wanted our defense to be our offense, and tonight our defense stepped up.”