HEYWARD, Calif. -- Despite playing in its home gym, in front of a raucous crowd, Heyward (Calif.) Moreau Catholic came into Wednesday's North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal against Fortuna (Calif.) as the underdog. The Mariners had never been to the NCS title game, and sport just a single upperclassman – junior Tyler Klingenbeck -- on a roster replete with sophomores and freshmen.
None of that mattered to Oscar Frayer, Damari Milstead and Brandon Lawrence, as the three combined for 51 of Moreau Catholic's 71 points, as the Mariners downed the Huskies 71-57.
"Coach [Frank] Knight always told us we have to get off to a fast start with teams that are senior-heavy, because one of our team's problems has been putting our head down when we get down early," Milstead said. "We tried to get out to a fast start."
Fortuna (25-3) was led by a game-high 19 points by junior guard Daniel Teasley, but a hot-shooting night from sophomore Moreau Catholic guard Lawrence helped open up the floor early for the likes of Frayer and Milstead.
"It feels great, man, especially with no seniors on the team and one junior," said Knight. "The kids are really buying in to what we're trying to do, and they're getting after it and playing hard, playing together. They like each other, and now, we're starting to learn how to defend, so we're scary now that we're starting to play defense."
Frayer – a 2016 four-star prospect – got things going early with a thunderous dunk, and secured a double-double early in the fourth quarter, before finishing with 15 points and 13 boards to go along with four blocks.
"I thank my teammates for getting me here, because without them, I couldn't do it," Frayer said. "I know my teammates count on me a lot, so at the end of the day, I have to help, and I do whatever my coach asks me to do."
Appropriately enough, Frayer dealt the death blow to the Huskies with 2:31 left in the game, hammering home a huge tomahawk dunk to put the Mariners up, 67-53.
"You have to put a team away like that," Frayer said. "A team full of seniors, we were the underdogs in this game – a team with a bunch of sophomores and freshmen and one junior, we've got to put it away, and the tomahawk did it."
"He paused in the air," marveled Knight. "That's an Oscar Special, man. I don't think anybody defends the glass like him. He's a hell of a player, and the crazy thing is, he's not even gotten anywhere near to where how good he's going to be. He's starting to get a jumper, starting to handle the ball more, and if he can get to the point where he can consistently handle the ball, man, we're talking about a McDonald's All-American with those skills."
Frayer did take a three-pointer late in the third quarter, a shot that, Knight, said, isn't the shot he wants the 6-foot-5, 180-pounder to take, but after a brief talking-to, Frayer scored his final six points in the paint.
"He got on me a little bit about it," Frayer laughed. "But, it was alright."
"That's not his shot, typically," Knight said. "I mean, if he's hitting, we'll run him off some double staggered screens and stuff, but that's not his shot. We want him going to the bucket and pulling up."
After Moreau Catholic took a 10-point lead into the halftime break, the Mariners came out firing, going on a 9-4 run to open the third quarter, fueled by Lawrence. Lawrence drained a three-pointer to open the second half off an assist from Frayer, he went on to score four more points in the first three minutes, capped off by a steal and a lay-up, and then a tough drive for a pair, leading into a reverse dunk by Frayer to finish off a 6-0 run. Lawrence finished with 18 points.
"Brandon's always good at home, scoring," Knight said. "We knew, in the second half, if we could get him open, especially on the baseline, he would knock down shots. He knocked down a couple and then he started going to the basket off the bounce. We need Brandon. We need 12, 13, 14, 15 a game for us to be really good."
Milstead rebounded from an 0-for-4 third quarter with eight points and two steals in the final stanza, before leaving with cramps in his right quad with 31.6 seconds left in the game. The freshman guard finished with 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, to go along with four steals.
"I'm pretty proud," Milstead said. "This is my first year, and we made history my first year."
The Mariners next play on Saturday, March 8, against perennial power Richmond (Calif.) Salesian for the Division 4 title at Dublin High School, at 7 p.m. Though the Pride is having a down season at 20-13, Knight isn't taking them lightly.
"They're still Salesian," Knight said.
Moreau Catholic Heads to First Title Game
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