HUNTINGTON BEACH — Tesoro senior guard Blake Manning couldn’t believe it.
He couldn’t hold back the emotions.
“These are tears of happiness,” said Manning, trying to compose himself. “It’s been a long journey. We only had two wins as sophomores and now we are CIF champions.”
Manning went back to celebrate with his friends as the scoreboard showed the Titans outlasting Orange Lutheran 54-35 to claim their first CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA Championship in 14 years on Saturday night at Edison High School.
“I love this group,” Tesoro coach Steve Garrett said. “It sounds corny but these kids love each other, and they are committed to one another. They are just great kids.”
Tesoro played close games in both their quarterfinal and semifinal matchups and Manning could not have described the first half any better.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” he said.
Tesoro’s offense in the first quarter came from senior Carson Brown who scored the team’s first 11 points.
Orange Lutheran kept finding answers and a 3-pointer by David Manea as time expired gave provided a 15-13 lead.
The Lancers used the momentum throughout the second quarter as 6-foot-7 John Gazzaniga was a presence inside. He swatted away three blocks but a once 23-13 lead with 4:37 left until halftime slowly started to diminish.
“It was hard to guard him (in the post). I started to find I was able to play off of him because he wasn’t a 3-point shooter,” Tesoro forward Jake Bennett said.
The Titans finished the quarter on a 7-0 run and entered halftime trailing by just two points.
The Titans jumped out in front when Brown hit a three and after the Lancers started to key in on him with an extra defender, Bennett was there to hit a few 3-pointers of his own.
“People started to tell me to shoot the ball and I gained my confidence back in that second half,” said Bennett who finished with 13 points including 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point arc.
Tesoro took the lead late in the third quarter and completely changed the game’s momentum. The fourth quarter started and a lob by Gazzania in the opening minutes was the only offense Orange Lutheran received.
The Titans held the Lancers scoreless for the final six minutes and finished the game on a 17-0 run.
Orange Lutheran was 1-of-11 in the final quarter and shot just 25 percent from the field over the course of the entire game.
“Coming in we knew they were going to be a big team but showing we can compete with them really got our confidence going,” Brown said.
Within the final two minutes, the Lancers started to intentionally foul to extend the game but Brown stepped up and hit his foul shots.
He finished with a game high 28 points and the celebration began.
“I still can’t believe it,” Tesoro forward Nathan Draper said. “We earned every bit of it.”
Following the win the CIF-Southern Section handed out championship patches and also handed one to Kyle Gleason who was unable to play this season because of having to get hip surgery.
“I’m just proud of them,” Gleason said smiling. “They worked their butts off and to win by 19 points in a game like this is just amazing.”
Tesoro will now eye a chance at a CIF state title and will know its opponent early next week.