Illingworth leads Tars to title |

Illingworth leads Tars to title

Dave Price

Dustin Illingworth put on quite a show for Newport Harbor High School this week at the 23rd annual Capital Classic.

An MVP show, in fact.

All Illingworth did was score 85 points in three games, highlighted by a 31-point performance on Wednesday night as the Tars from Newport Beach, Calif., pulled out a 61-59 triumph against previously unbeaten John F. Kennedy of Sacramento in a thrilling championship contest played at Carson High School’s Morse Burley Gymnasium.

The Classic title was the first since 1984 for Newport Harbor (11-4), and fittingly, Illingworth was awarded the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.

After leading by as many as 15 points, Newport Harbor had to withstand a late comeback by Kennedy that forced an extra period. The Tars won it as Illingworth scored seven of their eight overtime points.

The 6-foot-4 post player – “I’m that tall if I really stand tall,” he said with a smile – twice scored points that tied the score, and his three-point play put the Tars on top for good, 60-59 with 1:22 remaining.

Finally, Illingworth’s interior defense helped force Kennedy into a crucial turnover in the final minute, although he twisted an ankle on the play and was forced to watch the end of the game from the bench.

Then again, none of this will surprise anyone who knows Illingworth, a four-year starter in the post for Newport Harbor.

“As good a player as Dustin is, he’s the type of kid who’s always more concerned about his teammates,” Newport Harbor coach Larry Hirst said.

Aaron Yarnal also scored 15 points and Tony Melum had 12 coming off the bench for the Tars. Branden Walden scored 26 points for Kennedy.

Of the four games Newport Harbor has lost, three have been decided by a total of six points. This time, the Tars won a close one.

“We had four senior starters graduate from last year, so this is really a new group. It takes time to gain the composure you need to win at the varsity level, and I think we showed that composure tonight. Winning a game like this is the sign of a good team,” said Illingworth, a second-team All-CIF performer last season and a 3.9 student academically.

The Kennedy Cougars, who lost for the first time in 16 games this season, showed composure as they rallied back from a nine-point deficit in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Stephen Smith scored the final seven points in regulation, including a 3-pointer and a follow shot with 1:03 left.

“They’re a great team, a team that can score a lot of points on you very quickly,” Illingworth said. “They’re quick and scrappy, my hat’s off to them.”