San Marcos boys basketball struggled in the second half en route to a 56-48 season-opening loss to Royal on Wednesday in the Thunderhut.
The Royals (0-1) held a 30-23 lead at halftime, but a strong third quarter by the Highlanders ended with them holding a five-point advantage heading into the fourth.
Despite the loss, San Marcos coach James Kinzler was proud of his young team’s effort. The Royals have three sophomores on the roster who see consistent playing time.
“I’m really proud of their desire, effort and the excitement of the new season,” Kinzler said. “We had a lot of guys playing their first varsity games so there’s excitement surrounding that as well.
“You never know how the first game is going to go and all I can really ask is to give me everything you got.”
Royal started fast, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to go up 6-0 just one minute into the game. San Marcos then responded with a 9-0 run of their own, charged by four points from Micah Jacobi to take the lead.
After the Highlanders came back and tied the game up at 9-9, San Marcos’ Joe Pasternack caught fire, scoring 11 points, including a trio of three-pointers, in the final 1:35 of the quarter to give the Royals a 20-14 lead after the first quarter.
Pasternack’s three buckets from beyond the arc came on three straight possessions in that run, sending the San Marcos faithful into a frenzy.
The momentum from Pasternack’s scoring run carried over to the San Marcos defense in the second quarter, as the Highlanders didn’t score until the halfway mark of the quarter, cutting the lead to 24-16.
Following some back-and-forth play that included six points by Koji Hefner for the Royals, San Marcos led 30-23 at halftime.
However, Royal came out of the locker room on a mission, opening up the third quarter on an 11-3 run to take their first lead since the first minute of the first quarter.
That solid run carried throughout the rest of the quarter, with the Highlanders leading by five to cap off a 12-point swing in the eight-minute period.
“I didn’t think our defense was terrible that quarter,” Kinzler said. “I think they maybe tightened the screws a little bit defensively and were extremely physical.”
San Marcos cut the lead to three after Pasternack converted a layup off an assist by Danny Diaz to open the final quarter, but that was as close as the Royals would get for the rest of the night.
The Highlanders got 10 points in the fourth from Ace Arnold, who was finding success from three-point land all game.
San Marcos continued to fight to the final buzzer, but the Royals were on the wrong end of a 56-48 final score when it sounded.
“They were missing shots in the first half that were pretty open and we failed to capitalize and take advantage of some of their misses,” Kinzler said. “I had no doubt in my mind that they were going to start to hit shots sooner or later.
“Anytime the other team creeps up like they did then, we start to get a little tense and we start to get out of who we want to be.”
Jacobi tied the team lead with 17 points to go along with his 13 rebounds. Pasternack also ended with 17 points, the majority of which came in that first-quarter burst.
Hefner also had an effective night on the boards, collecting 12 rebounds of his own.
“I’m sad that they don’t get to get a win in their home opener and that stings a little bit, but it’s a long season,” Kinzler said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of close games and it’s going to be a really competitive group.”
The Royals will look to rebound when they play host to Newbury Park on Friday at 7 p.m.