The underdogs came ever-so-close to being the top dog.
The Lompoc Braves had a remarkable run through the recent CIF Southern Section Division 4A boys basketball playoffs, making it to the semifinals while also earning a spot in the CIF State Division 4 tournament.
They did it under the leadership of first-year head coach Paul Terrones.
After posting just six wins in 2016-17, the 2017-18 Braves rebounded for a fourth-place finish in the Los Padres League with a 9-5 league record, earning an automatic bid to the playoffs.
For leading the turnaround season and the deep playoff run, Terrones has been named the Lee Central Coast Newspapers All-Area Coach of the Year.
“I’m really proud that the kids never stopped working,” said Terrones during a recent telephone interview. “There was a week in January when we lost to Nipomo and Santa Ynez and the boys could have just stopped working, they could have given up. They continued to work, continued to grow — I’m really proud of them for that.”
Going into the final game of the regular season, the Braves had a shot at second place in the LPL.
But a home loss to Santa Ynez dropped them back to fourth.
“We were really disappointed,” said Terrones. “But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave us favorable matchups in the playoffs that we felt we could take advantage of.”
The matchups may have looked favorable, but in the CIF-SS brackets, Lompoc would be the lower seed each time out.
That didn’t bother the Braves.
Lompoc opened the tournament with a victory over Liberty League co-champions Encino Holy Martyrs Armenian High School 66-51.
“They reminded us of Santa Maria so we played them like we played Santa Maria,” said Terrones. “I felt that Jordan and Ryan gave us a definite height advantage.”
Jordan Tyler, their 6-foot-7 senior center, and Ryan Morgan, a 6-3 sophomore forward, controlled the boards then went the other way to power the offense.
Morgan led the team with 20 points, 5-11 senior guard Ruben Cortez added 16 and 6-foot junior guard Andrew Villa and Tyler each scored 13.
“Andrew played a big part in all our games,” said Terrones. “He stepped up his defense but didn’t let that affect his offense — he hit big shots for us every game.”
Lompoc added another upset in the second round, a 53-51 win at home over San Bernardino Aquinas, the second place team from the Ambassador League.
“Aquinas was similar to Holy Martyrs and we wanted to play them a similar way,” said Terrones. “It came down to Ryan and Jordan protecting the basket.”
With 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 51, Tyler came through, blocking an Aquinas layup attempt.
Senior guard Devin Villalobos was fouled and sank both free throws to seal the win.
Terrones changed tactics for their quarterfinal game at Desert Hot Springs, the No. 3 team out of the De Anza League.
“They wanted to press us but we press all the time so that didn’t bother us,” said Terrones. “And we were on fire that night. We hit three 3s right off the bat. It was a great night of shooting.”
The Braves rolled to a 92-83 victory to earn a trip to the semifinals.
“We were the lower seed in every game and I think people underestimated us in the first three rounds,” said Terrones. “But our kids believed. They played with love — because they love each other — and they did it from the first game of the season to the last.”
The season lasted two more games.
Lompoc lost to Riverside Carnegie 62-44 in the CIF-SS Division 4A semifinals.
The Braves were invited to the CIF State Tournament but lost to Los Angeles View Park 84-46 in the opening round.
“I have to give credit to all my seniors — Jordan Tyler, AJ Arias, Joseph Rookhuyzen, Devin Villalobos, Xavier Nix, Jeffrey Ray and Ruben Cortez,” said Terrones. “We wouldn’t have done anything without their hard work and leadership.”
Terrones is no newcomer to Braves basketball having spent the previous 10 years as an assistant coach on the girl’s team that’s coached by his wife Claudia Terrones.
Paul Terrones is also an assistant coach on the highly successful Braves football team.
“In the past I coached defensive backs and helped with the defense,” said Terrones. “This year I switched over to coaching the running backs and helped head coach Andrew Jones with the offensive game plan. That allowed me to lighten the load a bit so, at the end of the season, I could turn my focus to basketball.”
But the success of the Braves’ football team means the end of their season overlaps with the beginning of the basketball season.
“I was able to balance football with basketball,” said Terrones. “I’d hold basketball practice in the afternoon before football practice or in the evenings after football practice ended.”
A number of his basketball players were also on the football team.
“We had a bumpy start to the basketball season. It was a struggle waiting for the football players to end their season,” said Terrones. “Thankfully, there were no Friday night basketball games.”
The football players could only practice through the basketball team’s first seven games.
“It was tough playing those early games without them,” said Terrones. “But in the end, it helped with our depth. I look back at the Desert Hot Springs game and our bench really saved us. Our starting five versus their starting five was pretty even. The experience our bench players got in those early games really helped us.”
As the Braves close the book on the 2017-18 season, Terrones sees a bright future for his program.
He also wants this team to savor their accomplishments.
“We didn’t win a league championship but we did make the playoffs and had a great playoff run,” said Terrones. “These boys accomplished some great things that can never be taken away from them. I am very proud of all of them.”