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The Torrey Pines High School basketball team celebrates after their victory against Long Beach Poly on March 14. Photo by Aaron Burgin
The Torrey Pines High School basketball team celebrates after their victory against Long Beach Poly on March 14. Photo by Aaron Burgin
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Torrey Pines shakes off finals loss, makes deep state run

REGION — When Torrey Pines lost the CIF Open Division Championship title on March 7 on a miracle four-point play, it wasn’t clear how the Falcons would respond.

Seeded 6th in the state Division 1 playoffs, the senior-laden Falcons could either dwell on the loss and make an early exit or make a push toward a state crown.

The Falcons did the latter: After scoring a first-round victory over Santa Ana Foothill — the program’s first state win under longtime head coach John Olive — Torrey Pines scored an improbable upset victory over No. 3 Long Beach Poly on March 14 to advance to the regional semifinals, where the Falcons fell to second-seeded Chino Hills on Tuesday night.

Torrey Pines was joined by La Costa Canyon and Army Navy Academy in the regional semifinals of the Divisions 2 and 5, respectively. All three teams saw their seasons end Tuesday: La Costa Canyon, seeded No. 1 in Division 2, was upset by No. 4 Lawndale, and No. 6 Army Navy was thwarted in its upset bid of No. 2 Price, 67-62.

The win over Poly is one of the biggest wins in Torrey Pines basketball history, and propelled the Falcons to their best finish in the state playoffs in program history.

“To go into Poly and get that win and to go further than any team in school history, it’s crazy, especially after that loss (in CIF),” said senior guard Dominic Hovasse, who scored a game-high 16 points against Poly. “It is kind of like redemption for us; one of our goals was to go farther than any team had gone before, and to achieve that goal with this group of guys has been great.”

The Falcons, heavy underdogs in the Poly game, trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half before cutting the Jackrabbits lead to 43-40 at the start of the fourth quarter. From there, the Falcons used hot free-throw shooting and stifling defense to outscore Poly 14-6 in the final quarter to score the 54-49 upset.

In the regional semifinal versus highly touted Chino Hills, the script was reversed: Torrey Pines controlled the game for more than 25 minutes, before the Huskies clawed back and took over in the fourth quarter behind the play of junior point guard Lonzo Ball, a UCLA commit. Chino Hills wound up winning 64-57.

“We were up almost the entire game, and then Lonzo just put the entire game on his back,” said Hovasse, who said Ball hit a pair of 27-foot three pointers in the last two minutes to put Chino Hills up for good. “Those were just big shots. It was a bummer, but that is how basketball is.”

The loss ends a season that saw the Falcons, which lost standout junior guard Brandon Cyrus to transfer before the season, rattle off a 19-game winning streak from late December until the Open Division Championship loss to St. Augustine, and earn the No. 1 ranking in the U-T San Diego Basketball Top 10 for eight consecutive weeks.

Torrey Pines did it without a single Division 1 signee or commit, which, in this age, is almost unheard of for a top-rated team. Rather, the Falcons employed a synergetic approach that emphasized “team” over “we,” and got strong play from its seniors- guards Dominic Hovasse, Timmy Saunders and Jack Beach, and forwards Marek Sullivan (the Palomar League Most Valuable Player) and Connor Milmoe.

“I think if any of us went to any other school in San Diego, we would be averaging close to 20 points per game, but we knew we wouldn’t have been able to beat Long Beach Poly, Lawndale, Westchester or the other teams we’ve beaten if we just played individual minded basketball,” Hovasse said. “We sacrificed stats to look for the better shot, and it paid off.”

Most of the players will continue their careers either by attempting to walk on at Division 1 schools or at smaller colleges. Hovasse said he is considering walking on at Penn State, where his father, Tom, was a standout player, but he is also waiting to see if Division 1 schools will show interest during the spring.

“I feel I can play at the Division 1 level,” Hovasse said. “All I am looking for is an opportunity.”

La Costa Canyon’s loss ended the high-school careers of standouts Tommy McCarthy, Travis Fuller and Brady Twombly, who will continue their careers at Division 1 universities. Army Navy graduates one senior, standout guard Caleb Morris, who scored 31 points in the loss to Price.