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El Camino is not ready to part with their Division I crown quite yet. In the semifinals on Tuesday night, the fifth-seed Wildcats came from behind to upset top-seed Torrey Pines 49-46 in a rematch of last year’s title game.

“I’ve been telling our guys we’re the best team in San Diego if we want it,” said El Camino forward Preston Butler. “No matter what they do, we’re going to play our game and we’re going to do what we have to do to win.”

For most of the game, it was the host Falcons who had control of a physical game. Torrey Pines forward Amir Begovic hit a putback at the buzzer to give the Falcons a six-point lead at the half.

“At halftime, I told my teammates I don’t care what they’re doing – holding, pushing, biting, shoving – it doesn’t matter. We have to go out there and we will not be outworked by anybody,” Butler said. “After that we just picked up the intensity.”

El Camino came out attacking to start the third quarter and quickly made it a two-point game early. But Torrey Pines withstood the Wildcats’ intensity and stretched their lead back to nine, putting the defending section champs on the ropes.

“At that moment, someone needed to take over the game,” said El Camino guard Chris Gorman. “Someone needed to get us back in it.”

That someone was Gorman. The junior point guard scored the first five points of a 7-0 El Camino run to close out the third quarter, making it a two-point game headed into the fourth.

With five minutes to play and the game tied, Gorman put El Camino ahead with another big shot. The 5’11” guard hit a three from the wing – as part of his game-high 16 points – to give the Wildcats a 45-42 lead.

“I just had to shoot it up and give us a chance,” Gorman said.

El Camino held Torrey Pines off down the stretch with defense and four consecutive free throws from guard Dayton Boddie. With 10 seconds left, the Falcons had the ball with one last chance to tie, but guard Nick Kerr couldn’t get a desperation three to go at the buzzer.

“They had a better record coming into it, but a lot of that was just talk,” Butler said. “I told my guys, ‘Look, we’re El Camino. I don’t care how good anybody is, how bad they are, or how bad our record is. When we step on the court, all that matters is the game.’”

In knocking off Torrey Pines, El Camino advances to their third straight Division I championship game looking for back-to-back titles. Not bad for a team that lost its starting five and head coach from last season.

“At the beginning of the season, a lot of people were doubting us, saying ‘They don’t have a chance. They’re young and inexperienced.’” Butler said. “To step into the shoes that are unimaginable and to be in this spot – it feels great.”

Butler also finished in double figures for El Camino with 12, all of which came in the second half. The Wildcats made all 16 of their free throw attempts in the win.

“It has been a roller coaster,” said El Camino head coach Jeffrey Jarrard. “We’re peaking at the right time. Other teams peaked a little early, and we’re peaking right now.”

El Camino (19-10) will face sixth-seed and Palomar League rival Rancho Bernardo (20-11) in the Division I finals at the University of San Diego on Saturday. The Broncos have taken two of the three meetings between the teams this season, including a split in league.

“They beat us two out of three but I think we can beat anybody and we’re going to show it,” Gorman said.

In a losing effort, Kerr led Torrey Pines (26-4) with 14 points and Begovic added 13. The home loss was the Falcons’ first of the season.

“We feel that no one can beat us, that we’re the best team no matter what gym we are in, and we’re proving it,” Gorman said.

El Camino – 49 (14-5-17-13)

Gorman 16, Butler 12, Boddie 8, Beard 4, Mitchell 2 (starters) Ena 4, Tucker 3

Torrey Pines – 46 (15-10-13-8)

Kerr 14, Begovic 13, Heller 9, Neugarten 9, Spelich 1 (starters)

Image

Torrey Pines forward Amir Begovic drives to the hoop against El Camino guard Kyle Mitchell

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