Etiwanda overcomes nightmarish start to defeat Rancho Verde in basketball playoffs – Press-Enterprise

MORENO VALLEY – Etiwanda’s introduction to the 2019 basketball postseason was about as brutal as it gets. Fortunately for the Eagles, first impressions don’t always mean everything.

A nightmarish start, in which the Eagles yielded the game’s first 14 points, provided the challenge. Etiwanda met it with determined efficiency, pulling away to a 59-49 victory over Rancho Verde in the opening game of the Open Division round-robin playoffs.

“Yeah, it was a little scary,” said Etiwanda point guard Camren Pierce of the start. “It was the first varsity playoff game for some guys. We just had to keep fighting.”

Rancho Verde (24-5) knocked Etiwanda on its heels with its defensive intensity in the opening minutes. Quick feet and quick hands generated steal after steal, as the Mustangs scored 11 of the 14 early points off turnovers.

“They (Rancho Verde) were hitting all their threes and forcing turnovers,” Etiwanda coach David Kleckner said. “I thought it was going to be a long night.”

Brantly Stevenson stopped the onslaught with a 3-pointer and added another later in the quarter to help Etiwanda find its legs. Much of the credit went to Pierce, who crisply orchestrated the offense and helped bring the Eagles all the way back, giving them their first lead on a three-point play late in the second quarter.

“Their point guard is ridiculous,” Rancho Verde coach Brandon Baker said. “You can’t stay in front of him. He obviously settled down. He’s one of the best point guards I’ve seen.”

Tied at halftime, Rancho Verde took a big hit when Jaxen Turner was whistled for his second and third fouls in the first 33 seconds of the third quarter. Turner had taken nearly half of the Mustangs’ first-half shots and scored 16 of their 25 points.

With Turner watching from the bench, Rancho Verde mustered just six points in the third quarter and when he returned, his shooting had gone cold. He missed his first four shots from three-point range, as Etiwanda (25-3) pulled away to a double-digit lead early in the fourth.

As it was in Etiwanda’s 23-point victory over Rancho Verde early in the season, the Eagles’ depth was decisive. Five Eagles scored at least eight points. On the other side, Turner (23 points) and Tory San Antonio (13) accounted for all but 13 of the Mustangs’ points.

Rancho Verde also found itself in early foul trouble in each half, and Etiwanda made the Mustangs pay. The Eagles were 16 of 20 from the line in the second half, two of the misses coming in the final minute with the outcome decided.

Stevenson led Etiwanda with 16 points and Jahmai Mashack had 11 points and eight rebounds.

“Stevenson had a nice game,” Kleckner said. “And Tyree Campbell (11 points), he’s coming off an injury and he contributed. We need him.”

Etiwanda will travel to Rancho Christian for Tuesday’s second round-robin game. Rancho Verde will be home against Bishop Montgomery.

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