June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Strong defensive effort helps Irvine reach semifinals of Rancho Alamitos Tourney

Cooper Stearns (right) and Deacon Moss led Irvine to a tournament win Wednesday. (Photos: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Irvine High School’s standout junior Cooper Stearns delivered another big-time performance Wednesday night with a triple double to help the Vaqueros defeat West from Torrance 71-62 in the second round of the Rancho Alamitos Tournament.

But the 6-4 Stearns, who had 23 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists, had some help from his teammates, sending Irvine into the semifinals Friday night at 7:30 vs. Tustin.

Junior guard Deacon Moss, coming off a successful football season as a receiver, had 16 points off the bench. Senior guard Jaesang An and senior center Finn Hoffman each added 11 points for the Vaqueros (3-1).

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Irvine trailed early in the game, but went ahead 13-11 after one quarter and held a 30-23 lead at halftime. The Vaqueros built a comfortable lead outscoring West 20-9 in the third quarter.

“That was a really good win for our program,” said Irvine Coach Harry Meussner. “West, last year, we went and played a random single up in Manhattan Beach filling it for a team that dropped out, and they brought that pressure and we didn’t handle it well. So it just shows the growth of our program and the growth of our players and to be able to compete and give ourselves a lead like that so that we’re playing in one of those games is a great experience at winning basketball.

“I thought we came out with excellent energy, it really started with our defense. I thought we played great defense, making it tough on them and doing all the little things we’ve been talking about all year.”

Meussner was pleased to see Stearns record a triple double.

“He’s a special young man and he’s a leader of this team and this year, we have a full team effort so Cooper is going to do his thing but right now, I’m really proud of the Irvine Vaqueros and I want us to just keep growing every game and get ready.”

Moss gave the Vaqueros a lift, scoring eight points in the first half.

“Deacon Moss is a natural athlete, he just came out of football season and every single game, we’ve seen him grow and he’s another young man who just wants to win and wants to do well for his team and is so humble and has such a great attitude. It’s a privilege to coach Deacon Moss,” Meussner said.

Irvine held a 52-32 lead after three quarters but West continued to battle, cutting the lead to 10 with 1:51 left. But Stearns sealed the win with two free throws to make it 70-56 with under a minute remaining to keep the Vaqueros hopes alive for a tournament title.

“I thought we battled really well today and we played really well as a team with all guys being involved offensively and defensively,” he said. “I think there was a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, especially from last year playing against them and losing by 25 points. We were thinking we had to go and win this because we want to go and win this tournament and not finish short how we did last year.

“I was really proud of our guys and how hard we fought and we played very intense and we were very focused, much different than our previous game against Corona High School.”

Stearns was impressed with the effort of his teammate Moss.

“Deacon stepped up big-time,” Stearns said. “He just came off a huge football season and he’s obviously a very, very accomplished football player …. today he was showing how great he can be at a sport that is his secondary sport. It was awesome to see him compete well because he practices so hard and tries so hard. He was a big reason why we won, if he didn’t shoot as well as he did or play defense as well as he did, I don’t think we would have won that game.

“The team and myself are both extremely proud of how he is playing.”

West (2-1) was led by Shinzo Irie, who had 14 points and Dylan Chandler, who scored 11.

In another game Wednesday, Tustin rallied from a first half deficit to defeat Diamond Ranch to move into the semifinal vs. Irvine. Northwood, which defeated Palm Desert 70-49 faces Royal in the other semifinal Friday at 6 p.m.

Stearns and the Vaqueros get a chance to avenge the loss to Tustin in the finals of the tournament with a victory Friday night. The championship is Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

BONUS COVERAGE

Check out X @ocsportszone for video highlights from Wednesday’s game. Plus, Irvine’s Cooper Stearns reveals what’s he’s most grateful for on Thanksgiving.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com