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Facing small but athletic Moreno Valley Rancho Verde the first round of the state playoffs, Rancho Bernardo needed to minimize mistakes in order to win. The Broncos kept up with the Mustangs for a half but 27 turnovers caught up with them in a season-ending 56-40 loss.

“We had to shoot well in order to be in the game. We didn’t hit our normal shots because they put some pressure on us,” said Rancho Bernardo head coach Jim Choe. “They’re probably one of the more athletic teams we played all year.”

The first half was played evenly and at a slow pace. Tied at 12 at the end of the first quarter, Rancho Bernardo (21-12) went into halftime trailing 22-19 after guard Justin Inman hit a three pointer with 15 seconds left in the second quarter.

“That’s the kind of game that we can handle. Not that we slow it down – we don’t sit there and make six passes and find a shot – we just play good defense and it takes them sometimes 15 to 20 seconds to get a shot off,” Choe said.

Rancho Verde (27-4) hit two threes to start the third quarter and Rancho Bernardo had trouble keeping up with the Mustangs. The Broncos’ offense went scoreless for nearly five minutes as Rancho Verde began to slowly pull away.

“A lot of our open looks were just not there,” Choe said. “Their defense was a big part of us not making shots. They pushed us out of our comfort zone.”

With less than a minute to go in the third, Rancho Verde guard D.J. Odom connected on a three-pointer of the quarter to put Rancho Bernardo behind by 15. The Mustangs made four threes in the quarter.

After scoring only six points in the third quarter, Rancho Bernardo could not get out of their offensive funk in the fourth. The Broncos committed turnovers on their first four possessions and fell further behind.

“On two of our plays, I don’t know if it was luck or they had a diagram,” Choe said, “but they jumped out in the passing lane and took it before we even threw it. They had some of our plays down pat.”

Trailing by as much as 17, Rancho Bernardo cut the deficit to 10 with two minutes left. But the Broncos couldn’t get closer than that to keep their season alive.

“I think we’ve exceeded expectations,” Choe said. “Our goal was to make history and we did that by getting our second CIF title in school history.”

Defensively, Rancho Bernardo had their hands full all night with Rancho Verde guard Kyle Fuller. The Broncos did a pretty good job defending Fuller, but the Vanderbilt-bound senior still finished with a game-high 28 points, making an array of inside and outside shots.

“We knew Fuller was the guy. He’s on YouTube and I got some game film from other coaches up north. I knew he was the guy, we saw what they do,” Choe said. “Their athletes get him in positions where he can be successful and if not he’s good enough to go one on four and make a play.”

Odom (11 points) and guard Sonny Reese (12) also finished in double figures for Rancho Verde. The Mustangs advance to face top-seed Mater Dei (Santa Ana) in the second round on Thursday.

“We’re not a great offensive team,” said Rancho Verde head coach Travis Showalter. “We have to hold people down to a certain number to be successful and when we do we come out with a ‘W’ more times than not.”

Nine players scored for Rancho Bernardo, but none finished with more than nine points. Broncos center Tanner Clayton delivered the team’s best all-around performance, with five points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks despite not feeling well and sleeping for most of the day Monday.

“I just felt weak,” Clayton said. “It didn’t really affect me defensively, but offensively I wasn’t really there.”

Before falling to Rancho Verde, Rancho Bernardo closed out their season by winning 10 of their last 11. The Broncos surprise run to the Division I section title brought home their first championship since 1998.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. We were sitting at 11-10 at one point and these kids didn’t quit,” Choe said. “They never hung their heads.”

Rancho Verde – 56 (12-10-18-16)

Fuller 28, Reese 12, Odom 11, Spencer 2, Poston 0 (starters) DeAnrade 2, Grace 1

Rancho Bernardo – 40 (12-7-6-15)

Fuller 9, Stephan 8, Clayton 5, Inman 6, Monis 3 (starters) Keatly 3, Whyte 2, Searson 2, White 2


Rancho Bernardo forward David Searson puts in a shot over Rancho Verde forward Jordan Grace

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