ELK GROVE — At one point this season, the Laguna Creek boys basketball team was using seven players and streaking to a 4-1 start.
Then, on Jan. 1, the Cardinals and coach Paul Casey welcomed a handful of finally-eligible transfers and promptly went on a four-game losing streak.
Casey — who won two Sac-Joaquin Section titles at Valley — said his team’s chemistry “was off … we’ve been running into each other lately.” Casey hoped his newcomers (six in all) would gel sometime soon.
Unfortunately for visiting Davis High on Wednesday, the first hint of Cardinal cohesion came at the expense of the Blue Devils.
In another game with a break-neck pace of a game, South Carolina transfer Andre Lewis had his second 30-plus point outing of the month (35) and 6-foot-8 junior Malik Pope (from Burbank High) collected eight rebounds, had three blocks and scored 10 points as Laguna Creek came from behind to hand DHS its first Delta Valley Conference loss, 86-85.
“We missed quite a few free throws,” Devil coach Dan Gonzalez said after his team fell to 12-7 overall and 2-1 in league. “We just didn’t have the energy for some reason … (but) we had it in that fourth quarter, and I think if we had played with it the whole game, we would have come out ahead.”
The Cards fell victim to Davis’ early energy when guard Brett Bloomfield came off the bench to score off his own steal, then bury a trey to give the locals a 9-2 lead barely three minutes in. After Hayden Russell made it 11-2, DHS went on a scoring drought of more than three minutes before Brandon Strong hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Blue Devils back in control, 17-9.
But this Laguna Creek squad remains the area’s mystery package. With Lewis heating up and Los Angeles transplant Brionne Mays hitting the boards, the Cardinals stayed in touch.
With Lewis scoring 14 second-period points, The Creek had a manageable halftime mountain to climb, trailing only 43-38.
When the bell rang for the second half, Laguna Creek went on a 14-2 run before Kevin Sorensen used an Austin Lampley pass to score inside and temporarily restore order. C.K. Hicks’ bank-in trey and a couple of free throws by Russell also helped, but when Mays canned a long-range shot, Davis was in its biggest hole at 61-49 with 2:48 left in the third.
That’s when the Devils’ second wind kicked in …
James Kilkenny scored and Strong hit two more threes (he finished with five treys and 15 points).
Trailing by eight heading into the final stanza, Strong and Ben Crook nailed 3-pointers and Tommy Slabaugh’s two free throws brought DHS to within 80-76.
A Russell steal and bucket set the stage for Grant Dickerson to tie the game at 80 and again at 82.
It was tied at 84-84 when Lewis tipped in his own miss, leaving Davis trailing by two with 13.9 seconds remaining.
Gonzalez called timeout six seconds later, but Mays stole the in-bounds pass — only to miss a shot, which Russell rebounded.
The Devil captain, with Laguna defenders trying to foul before he could press up court and shoot, failed to get the advantage and — with a second left — Russell managed a desperation shot from 40 feet. The result? A foul from beyond the arc and a three-shot opportunity.
Russell hit just the middle charity toss, his last free throw clanging off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
But given the Blue Devils’ opportunities throughout the game, Gonzalez said it shouldn’t have been left to Russell at the foul line.
“There were a lot of chances throughout,” the veteran coach explained.
Russell led Davis with 17 points, added five assists, four rebounds and had three steals in another solid outing.
Sorensen finished with 11 points, Bloomfield had 10 and Dickerson added seven, while grabbing seven boards. Slabaugh and Crook both had five points.
Notes: Next up for DHS is a trip to Monterey Trail on Friday. Next Wednesday, reconstituted Franklin comes to town for a DVC matchup that could give one of the two squads a leg up in the conference chase. … From the Clearing House Dept.: Because Franklin is closed to additional enrollment with 3,000 students, Laguna Creek became the beneficiary of six transfer students who happen to play basketball: Pope, Lewis and Mays are joined by Jericho Avery (from Burbank), Gabriel Pizon (Elk Grove) and Khalil Shaw (Arizona).