SANTA ANA — Returning to a CIF-Southern Section Championship for the second time in as many years, Santa Clarita Christian School boys basketball had its hands full with Rolling Hills Preparatory School in the Division 3AA title game at Godinez High School on Saturday.
Shooting 1-for-7 from beyond the arc to begin the first quarter, SCCS looked a bit disheveled after going down 14-0 halfway through the initial frame.
Battling back, senior Kevin Stone hit an elbow 3-pointer to stop the run and ignite a similar 11-3 run for SCCS to finish the quarter. But the hole was just too deep for SCCS to come back from as the Cardinals fell 56-49 at the final whistle.
“They are a good team and are physical, but I think we started out a little jittery,” said SCCS head coach James Mosley. “I think we got down to a good team and that changed the complexion of the game. Our focus will be making sure that we are enforcing our gameplan in the first couple minutes. Getting down just kind of through off the rhythm for us. Moving forward, we just have to make sure we are ready to impose our will from the opening minute.”
Stone finished with a game-high 24 points for SCCS, going 6-for-9 from 3, shooting 72 percent from the field on the day.
“Coaches have really worked with me and my shot throughout the whole year on trying to be consistent in each game with my footwork and release,” Stone said. “I just took all of that in and executed that to the best of my abilities.”
Down 17-11 after one quarter of play, SCCS tried to carry the scoring momentum into the second quarter, but just as they did to begin the game, the Huskies scored five straight points to bring the lead to double-digits, up 23-11 with 4:46 left in the first half.
Switching to a zone defense halfway through the quarter, SCCS stifled the Huskies offense, but didn’t quiet them as they held on to a 10-point lead heading into halftime.
“We had to bring more energy,” Mosley said about the halftime adjustments. “We felt like we wanted a more rhythmic game and they wanted to control the tempo by running off 20-25 seconds off the clock, so we just brought more energy and pushed up when we made our runs. They are strong and so they want to get to a spot and power. That was kind of the adjustment at halftime, we wanted to really push up and guard and use our athleticism and length to disrupt them.”
Listening to their coaches instructions, the Cardinals began the second half strong with a Stone 3 at the top of the key, followed by a Josh O’Garro layup inside the lane.
On the out-of-bounds play, Stone rushed towards half court, stealing the ball and dishing it to a wide open Justin Collins who faked the shot and drove in for a silky smooth finger roll, forcing Rolling Hills to call a quick timeout up 36-30 with 4:00 minutes remaining in the quarter.
SCCS got within four points before the Huskies went on another run pushing the lead back up to nine with just one quarter to play.
Understanding that the game was on the line, the Cardinals switched to a full-court press in the fourth quarter and tried to use the team’s collective length to force Rolling Hills into making bad decisions.
A 10-second call and a Stone 3-pointer cut the deficit to five with 4:39 left in the game, down 45-40.
After trading 3-point buckets with under three minutes to go to bring the score to 48-43, the Huskies knocked down crucial free throws to seal the game and capture the CIF-SS 2018-19 Division 3AA championship.
Kaleb Lowery finished with a double-double, scoring 10 and grabbing 11 rebounds.
SCCS is guaranteed one more game in the SoCal Regional Tournament at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The brackets will be released Sunday evening.
“We just need to move forward and learn from this,” Stone said. “We haven’t lost in a while, but from the losses that we suffered against tougher competition in the beginning of the season, we just have to learn and do the same thing now.”