With a trip to the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA semifinals on the line, Santa Clarita Christian School boys basketball hosted Warren High School at The Master’s University on Thursday.
Allowing Warren to take 1-0 lead minutes into the game, SCCS went on a 13-1 run and never looked back, winning 96-63 to advance.
Josh O’Garro and Kevin Stone heated things up for the Cardinals (9-21 overall) combining to score 18 of the team’s 28 points in the first quarter.
O’Garro finished the game with a team-high 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. Stone had 18 points (two 3’s), three rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“We are a team that shares the ball and don’t care who scores,” said SCCS head coach James Mosley. “We have multiple options, Josh and Kevin have been dominant in practice lately, so I went into the game feeling good because I knew we would get shots and move the ball. They knocked down shots.”
After Justin Collins and Stone hit back-to-back 3’s, Warren (20-7) was forced to call a timeout to settle things down.
Bears’ Tremond Johnson took matters into his own hands and drove into the lane and drained a floater to stop the run and bring the score to 15-3 with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
Junior forward Kaleb Lowery, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, entered the game at the 2:22 mark. His presence was felt immediately.
Blocking and altering shots, Lowery ignited the Cardinals fast break that ended with an O’Garro run-out dunk.
“This group of guys are just a good set of guys that put their heart into every game and into the team,” Lowery said. “I just love playing alongside them.”
Beginning the second quarter with an O’Garro step-back 3, the Cardinals picked up right where they left off and jumped out to a 17-8 run after another big block by Lowery led to another two-handed dunk, this time by Stone.
“We knew that we had to get him back to make a run,” Mosley said of Lowery. “I’m so excited for him and just to see him moving around, we are definitely going to need him moving forward with his presence underneath rebounding, blocking shots and his high IQ.”
Lowery ended the game with six points, three rebounds, three blocks and one assist.
Heading into the half, SCCS held a 54-25 lead.
Coming out with a big lead proved a slippery slope for the Cardinals, as they turned the ball over on consecutive possessions forcing Mosley to call a timeout.
“I just told them to get back and make sure we were focused. They (Warren) have had a great year and are a great team and you can’t play around. Our focus is to get better every day. Whether we are up 10, 15 or 30, we are going to do things the same way so we can continue to get better.”
Hearing their coach’s message, Caden Starr and Leroy Thompson answered.
Driving into the lane and using his length and size to back players down, Starr scored three straight buckets. Coupled with Thompson’s sweet stroke from behind the arc, SCCS pushed the lead back to 31 points at 58-27 with 6:01 left in the third.
Scoring all 17 of his points in the second half, Starr had that look in his eyes and took the game over to help the Cardinals to secure the win.
“He is so huge for our team offensively,” Mosley said. “He has been so unselfish all year long and he just makes the game so much easier. To have a guy that you can throw the ball to and know that he could put passes right on the money in rhythm or score. He has been a huge asset for us all year long.”
With the win the Cardinals move onto the CIF-SS Division 3AA semifinals where they will play Highland at Highland High School at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s nice having a team where everyone can score the ball and is so dangerous offensively because we have so many options on offense,” Starr said. “It’s hard for the team to guard all of us at once.”