Bryce Warrecker
Bryce Warrecker, shown in a game earlier in the season, scored 28 points for Santa Barbara in a 52-50 CIF State Tournament win at Oxnard. (Noozhawk file photo)

OXNARD —Never count out the Santa Barbara High boys basketball team.

The Dons, who during the CIF-Southern Section 3A Division playoffs rallied from an 18-point deficit for a win, came through with another huge comeback victory in the first round of the CIF State Tournament on Tuesday night.

Led by Bryce Warrecker’s 28 points, No. 14 Santa Barbara roared back in the second half and beat third-seeded Oxnard, 52-50, in a thrilling Division 3 opener.

Santa Barbara had lost at Oxnard by one point back in early January.

The Dons (29-4) will now travel to No. 6 Crescenta Valley, a 59-44 winner over No.11 Bakersfield. for the second round on Thursday night. Crescenta Valley was a 2A semifinalist and Santa Barbara a 3A semifinalist.

“Our team got it together,” said Santa Barbara senior Jackson Hamilton, who scored four points and had a key offensive rebound in the final quarter.  “We weren’t playing as a team too well, so we brought it together, made some shots, played some defense and we pulled out the victory.”

The Dons trailed by 13 in the second quarter and 10 at halftime.

Bryce Warrecker gives Santa Barbara a52-50 lead with 5 seconds left at Oxnard. Warrecker scores 28 points

— NoozhawkSports (@NoozhawkSports) February 27, 2019

“We said at halftime that we’ve been down way bigger than that,” Warrecker said. “We’re just going to keep playing Dons basketball. That’s our thing and keep going.”

Warrecker buried a three-pointer with 4:48 in the fourth quarter to give Santa Barbara its first lead of the night, 44-42, against an athletic and physical Oxnard squad that lost in the Southern Section 3AA semifinals.

The Yellowjackets threw the ball away and Jackson Hamilton smartly kept his dribble and drove the lane for a layup and a 46-42 lead with 3:32 to go.

“I saw the lane open and I went for it,” Hamilton said.

The Dons got the ball back but Kevin Tate of Oxnard made a steal and went in for a layup to cut the lead to two.

Santa Barbara threw the ball away but its defense stepped up to deny the Yellowjackets from a tying basket. The Dons collapsed on Stacy Johnson in the paint and forced him to take a bad shot.

After a Dons’ timeout, Hamilton saw an opening along the baseline and drove in for a layup and a 48-44 lead with 1:24 to go.

Stacy Johnson answered with a three-pointer to bring the Yellowjackets within one, 48-47, at the 1:12 mark.

Warrecker had a rare miss in the fourth quarter, but Hamilton came up with a clutch offensive rebound, and the Dons called their last timeout with 49 seconds left.

“They got real athletic guys,” Hamilton said of Oxnard. “They got a guy going to Oregon (Jaron Waters) and another going to Montana State (Dominic Brown) for football. We just toughened up in that fourth quarter and got the boards.”

Said Santa Barbara coach Dave Bregante: “Guys made big plays. That’s what you got to do to win games like this. There’s no easy way to go about it.”

On Santa Barbara’s possession after the timeout, Jackson Gonzales got trapped along the sideline but he was able to fling the ball cross court to Warrecker, who drove on two Yellowjackets and scored while drawing contact for a 50-47 lead with 42 seconds to go.

Johnson buried another huge three for Oxnard to tie the score with 24 seconds left.

Santa Barbara again went to Warrecker. He broke down the lane and received a pass from Gonzales for a layup and a 52-50 lead with 5.2 seconds to go.

“My guys are always doing a great job at getting me the ball. All I have to do is put it up,” Warrecker said. “They are the ones getting me open — a credit to them.”

With fouls to give, the Dons’ Stephen Davis fouled Oxnard’s Johnson at midcourt, leaving the Yellowjackets with 3.1 seconds to get off a shot.

They inbounded to Waters and he hoisted a 40-foot desperation shot that fell way short.

Oxnard played at a high tempo and dominated on the boards to open up a 13-point advantage (23-10) in the first half and led by 10 at halftime (31-21).

Santa Barbara beats Oxnard 52-50 in state tournament

— NoozhawkSports (@NoozhawkSports) February 27, 2019

Santa Barbara, which switched to a 1-2-2 zone defense in the second quarter, stayed with the zone in the second half and that seemed to take Oxnard out of rhythm.

“We went to a zone and that slowed them down a lot,” Warrecker said. “They’re really good offensive players. They can beat pretty much anyone off the dribble. Going to the zone, they had a hard time penetrating and kicking out to hit those big threes.”

Said Hamilton:  “We’re all lengthy. All of our guys are over six feet and we have long arms. We can get stops in the zone.”

Warrecker took charge in the third quarter, scoring seven straight points for Santa Barbara, including a three-pointer, cutting the Oxnard lead to three, 33-30.

“I’m always trying to get something going, get to the paint,” Warrecker said. “We hit some big threes tonight and that opened up the paint a bit.”

The Dons made 8 of 9 shots in the third quarter, with Davis knocking down a sweet step-back with two seconds on the clock to make it a three-point game at 39-36.

Davis and Hamilton each scored eight points for Santa Barbara.

Oxnard (23-9) got 18 points from Johnson, 16 from Brown and 11 from Waters.

“This is all new territory for us, and the kids are handling out well,” Bregante said of the Dons stepping up in the postseason. “We’re getting better every time we face this kind of competition.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.