FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Roger Holmes figured his Fountain Valley High boys' basketball team would face, as the veteran coach put it Monday, a "monumental task," when the Barons faced Inglewood Friday.
What awaited the Sunset League champions in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs was a seasoned Inglewood team. The Sentinels won the Division 2AA title a year ago before moving up two divisions for the 2012-13 season. They also returned all five starters from that title-winning team. If Friday was any indication, they could have a say in who takes the 1AA crown.
Inglewood's height advantage was evident throughout the game and Fountain Valley had no answer for it. It was a tough first-round draw for the Barons, who saw their season come to an end in a 72-43 loss on their home floor.
Fountain Valley held its last lead of the game at 10-9, and that came on a layup by senior center Jackson Gatlin with 39 seconds left in the opening quarter.
"We had to shoot really well tonight in order to keep this game close," Holmes said. "They are so athletic and they dominated with their height advantage. We like to penetrate, which is when we're at our best, but they took that away from us.
"We haven't shot well since the second half of Sunset League play, and we didn't shoot well tonight."
Fountain Valley suffered through scoring lapses over the final three quarters that allowed the Sentinels to steadily increase their lead. The Barons were only three of 18 from three-point range and one of their makes came on a buzzer-beating bank shot by senior guard Josh Armstrong that pulled the Barons to within 32-21 at the half. They hit their second attempt from the arc but missed their next seven tries.
Holmes said that his team shot just 18% during the 10-game Sunset League season.
"This game had the potential to do exactly what it did," he said. "We needed to shoot well, and we didn't. They didn't shoot all that well, either, but they had 12-15 offensive rebounds in the first half, alone, and scored on a lot of follow-up shots."
Inglewood, the No. 12 seed in the division, featured a lineup that included 6-foot-10 senior center Charlie Lockwood, 6-7 senior forwards Nicholas Smiley and Jamin Lackey, 6-5 senior wing Kristopher Randall, and 6-0 shooting guard Brandon Randolph who has signed with Xavier. Smiley was the Division 2AA Player of the Year last year.
"Their starting five is athletic, and they don't miss a beat with guys that come in off the bench," Holmes said.
Neither team shot well in a first quarter that ended with Inglewood up, 11-10. The Sentinels took their first double-digit lead (26-16) on a layup by Randall late in the second quarter. Fountain Valley went 2:30 without a point until Armstrong banked in his three before the halftime buzzer.
Gatlin scored from close range 22 seconds into the second half to draw Fountain Valley to within 32-23, but it was the last basket in 3:31 for the Barons, who didn't score again until senior forward Joey Petersen hit a layup. By then, the Barons trailed, 41-25.
Smiley, who had scored only three points in the first half, scored 10 of the Sentinels' 22 third-quarter points. He led the Sentinels with 13 points.
Inglewood (17-9, Ocean League No. 2) took a 54-31 lead into the fourth quarter.
Fountain Valley, guided by a core of eight seniors, finished the year 20-7 and won the Sunset League title for the first time in 18 years. Armstrong led all scorers with 16 points, Gatlin scored 12, Petersen eight points and senior forward Tanner Trounce had seven points.
"It was a big year for Fountain Valley," said Holmes who completed his third year as head coach at his alma mater. "We won 16 games in that first year, and no Fountain Valley team had won more than 10 games in a season in the seven previous years. We won 17 games a year ago, and won a [CIF] playoff game. This year, we won 20 games and won the Sunset League championship. That game [against Inglewood] has nothing to do with this year. That one was predictable.
"Our senior group worked really hard and adapted to our philosophy and style. They were sophomores when we got here and they really came together as a group, and won a league championship."
Friday CIF Southern Section Scoreboard