From the start of the 2021 season, the Coronado Islanders boys’ basketball team has had the look and feel of a team of destiny. All season the Islanders showed time and time again why they were one of the top teams in San Diego County, and on Friday night JD Laaperi’s team put an exclamation point on that statement as they captured the CIF Division II title by defeating top-seeded Orange Glen High School in a 51-48 thriller.
Even before the opening tip, you could feel the intensity in the air, as the Islander faithful packed the stands of St. Augustine High School in a sea of green, black, and white.
The game started in an oh-so-familiar fashion, as after senior No. 5 Alex Crawford won the tip, senior point guard No. 3 Wayne McKinney drove right through the Patriots zone defense and dropped the opening bucket for the Islanders. The zone defense of Orange Glen gave Coronado some minor fits for their first few possessions.
But those struggles were quickly cast aside after back-to-back three-pointers from No. 20 Zach Jackson and McKinney, and another McKinney lay-up following a steal by No. 11 Nolan Reuter to give the Islanders the early 10-4 lead. The Islanders continued to build on their lead as McKinney added four more points off two lay-ups and Crawford added a nice post-move bucket off a great steal and pass from senior No. 23 Joseph Taylor-Pate, giving the Islanders the 16-9 lead at the end of the first.
While the seven-point lead was nice, the Islanders knew they needed more. And more they would get. To get the quarter started McKinney picked the pocket of Orange Glen’s point guard and broke away for an impressive two-handed slam dunk.
The slam dunk seemed to spark the Islanders’ offense as they proceeded to score on their three possessions thanks to consecutive three-pointers from long-range sniper No. 1 Luke Chisholm and another emphatic dunk coming courtesy of Crawford to cap off a 10-2 Islanders’ run and give them a 26-11 lead.
To go along with the big offensive attack in the second for the Islanders, the Coronado defense completely shut down the Patriots’ offense, holding Orange Glen to just nine points in the second quarter. When asked about the Islanders’ defensive effort Friday night, senior Alex Crawford replied, “Our motto and M.O. all season has been to play lockdown defense. We did a great job of closing out shooters and protecting the rim and it’s a big reason we came out with the W.”
The Islanders tacked on a few more points to end the half, all coming courtesy of Crawford and McKinney, who hit a shot right before the buzzer to put Coronado in the driver’s seat as they led 33-18 at the end of the first half.
Coming out of the half, the Islanders’ offense was a little sluggish as the Islanders struggled to find open looks. However, while the offense tried to find its footing, Coronado’s D continued to cause headaches for Orange Glenn thanks to multiple steals from McKinney and Jackson and a pair of blocks from Crawford and Taylor-Pate.
Coronado finally got some offense with just over four minutes to play in the quarter after back-to-back buckets from Crawford and McKinney made it a 37-24 game. However, after these baskets Orange Glen started to make their move as the top-seeded Patriots went on an 11-2 run over the next three minutes and made it just a nine-point Islanders’ lead. Before the end of the quarter, Crawford laid one in to beat the buzzer to make it a double-digit Islanders’ lead heading to the 4th.
Just eight minutes from history the Islanders held a 43-33 lead, the only question was, could they finish? The quarter started shaky for the Islanders as the Patriots buried back-to-back shots to make it a 43-38 game with 5:54 to play. But before Orange Glen could go on a run Crawford would again strike in the low-post laying in another bucket despite being triple-teamed.
On the ensuing Patriots’ possession, McKinney again stole the ball from Orange Glen’s point guard. But with a clear lane to the basket, McKinney was hooked by the neck and tackled. The play resulted in a technical foul on the Orange Glen defender and sparked the exchange of verbal pleasantries from both benches.
With the foul-call, McKinney hit 1/2 from the line and the Islanders kept possession, where on the ensuing inbound play Crawford again imposed his will on the Orange Glen defense and got another two points for the Islanders, making it a 48-43 game with two minutes to play. The patriots quickly narrowed that lead after making three straight free throws at the line to make it a one-point game with 51 seconds left in regulation.
The ensuing Islander possession would be critical, any bucket would make it at least a three-point game. So who did Coronado call on? Who else but Wayne McKinney. With the shot clock winding down the senior hit a jumper at the top of the key to make it a 51-48 game with 9.1 seconds to play.
Coronado needed just one more defensive stand and they got it, as on the final shot of the game, Taylor-Pate and Reuter both got their hands in the Orange Glens shooter’s face, and the shot clanged off the back iron giving the Islanders their first CIF title in basketball for the first time in 31 years.
“This is an amazing feeling,” said McKinney. “Seeing that last shot go up I thought he hit it, but it missed and we grabbed that rebound and were able to close it out. This team battled all year and worked unbelievably hard. To win this game is such an amazing feeling.”
What this Islanders team was able to accomplish this season is truly amazing. Game in and game out they left it all out on the floor. No one hustled them, no one outworked them, and very few could ever outplay them. The 2021 Islanders boys’ basketball team will forever be etched into Coronado High School sports history.