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Carlsbad junior guard Jake Hall drives to the hoop against Harvard-Westlake on Saturday in the CIF SoCal Open Division regional semifinals. Photo by Samuel Mawanda
Carlsbad junior guard Jake Hall drives to the hoop against Harvard-Westlake on Saturday in the CIF SoCal Open Division regional semifinals. Photo by Samuel Mawanda
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Carlsbad falls late to Harvard-Westlake in CIF regional semifinal

LOS ANGELES — For Carlsbad, it was the same outcome but a very different story.

The Lancers boys’ basketball dream season ended Saturday night as it began: with a loss against the national powerhouse and top-ranked Harvard-Westlake in the CIF SoCal Regional Open Division semifinals.

However, Carlsbad’s 73-72 loss to the Wolverines was unlike November’s 39-point thrashing. The Lancers controlled both sides of the court from the opening tip and came within a half-inch  — Tony Duckett’s too-long step-back fadeaway with eight seconds left — of completing the Cinderella story.

“On the bus ride home, and as I lay in bed until 3 a.m., I went over all the what-ifs in my head,” said Lancers’ head coach Clark Allard. “When I woke up, I was overwhelmingly proud of how we battled against a top-five team in the country.”

The Lancers heavyweight trio of Duckett, Jake Hall, and Jael Martin played near-perfect basketball. Duckett led Carlsbad with 23 points, while Hall knocked in 18. Martin asserted himself on both sides of the ball, scoring 15 and adding five crucial blocks.

“The amount of talent on [Carlsbad] is unbelievable,” said Jaxen Sladavic, a senior guard from conference rival San Dieguito Academy. It’s not just the first 10; 15 guys on that team are very good basketball players, and when their chemistry is going, they are very tough to beat.”

Several two-handed dunks from Pepperdine commit Martin energized the heavily purple Carlsbad section of the bleachers with “Let’s go Carlsbad” chants, making it feel like a home game at times.

“They were loud during Harvard-Westlake’s free throws and were pumping us up when we scored,” Allard said. “Our guys fed off that. It was a huge contribution. It wasn’t just parents who travelled two-and-a-half hours; it was community members and students.”

At one point, the Lancers pushed the lead to 13.

Lancers junior guard Jordan Garner pushes past a Harvard-Westlake defender on March 2 in a CIF SoCal Open Division regional semifinal game. Photo by Samuel Mawanda
Lancers junior guard Jordan Garner pushes past a Harvard-Westlake defender on March 2 in a CIF SoCal Open Division regional semifinal game. Photo by Samuel Mawanda

Going into the half, Carlsbad led by eight, 41-33, making every possession a war of attrition for Harvard-Westlake. The Lancers’ frenetic defensive effort primarily held in check the high-scoring backcourt of Christian Horry and Robert Hinton.

Hinton didn’t score his first points until late in the fourth period.

“We wanted to take away their post isolations,” Allard said. “We wanted to keep them more on the perimeter so we loaded up on help on the baseline side for all of their post touches.”

It took an other-worldly, 40-point performance from USC commit Trent Perry to close Carlsbad out.

“I wanted to wear a Harvard-Westlake jersey at least one more time,” Perry said postgame.

Harvard-Westlake played a tighter second half, taking their first lead since the game’s opening minutes midway through the fourth. Carlsbad remained resilient, cutting the deficit to one with 24 seconds left.

Both teams exchanged multiple fouls, playing a free throw game against the clock, until Perry stepped out of bounds with the ball in his hands at the 10-second mark.

“On our last two free throws, we told Jael [Martin] to miss the last free throw,” Allard said. “He shot it three feet higher than he normally shoots it, trying to get it off the back rim so we could try for an offensive rebound, but he ended up getting nothing but net.”

On the inbound pass, Duckett drove from mid-court, getting within 12 feet of the basket, before putting up a step back, fadeaway, from the left side of the hoop — a clean look, but the shot caught just too much rim.

“He was cooking,” Allard said. “Everybody was upset after the game, but without Tony, we aren’t in that situation. The ball being in his hands at the end and him getting a good look — I wouldn’t change a single thing about that. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”

Up 73-72, with 3.8 seconds left, Harvard-Westlake inbounded the ball the length of the court. In the scramble for possession, the clock ran out on Carlsbad, who no longer had any timeouts to use.

“The pride I have in this team overtook any what-ifs,” Allard said.

Carlsbad finishes the season 30-3 as the eighth-ranked team in the state and with a CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship banner.

Perhaps most impressively, the Lancers won 20 consecutive games, going from December to March without a loss.

Duckett, Martin, and critical contributors Euan Davis and Tristan Guzman graduate this spring. For Allard, these will be tough players to replace.

“We will have to reimagine things next year,” Allard said. “Every year is a different landscape as far as the group in front of you. I think we will have a great team next year, and the saying’ success breeds success,’ so we are hoping a bunch of people around the county see what we did this year and want to be part of something that we think is special.

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