SANTA ANA — Mission Prep’s boys basketball team trailed by 11 points midway through the third quarter of its CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA title game Saturday against Buckley High.
The momentum was turning against the Royals rapidly before sophomore guard Quinton Adlesh took it upon himself to carry his team.
Adlesh drilled three 3-pointers and a layup on four consecutive possessions to pull the Royals right back in the blink of an eye.
The quarter ended with Buckley leading 40-38, giving the large contingent of boisterous Royals fans clad in white T-shirts plenty to scream about.
But a valiant effort came up short as the Royals couldn’t muster a final burst of offense, losing 54-46 at Mater Dei High.
The championship was the first for Buckley of Sherman Oaks since the school opened in 1933.
For the Royals, it was another heartbreaker in a final recalling a 28-21 loss to Rio Hondo Prep in the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division title game in football this past fall.
But the Mission Prep basketball squad has the state Division 5AA tournament to look forward to as the top two section finishers automatically qualify.
Against an athletic team with length and the ability to explode to the basket, the Royals (23-8) put together a few runs against Buckley (24-6) in a neck-and-neck battle.
Adlesh was the stabilizing force for the Royals, establishing his aggressiveness early on offense, finishing with 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Connor Woolpert had 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. Together, Adlesh and Woolpert had 21 of the Royals’ 23 first-half points.
“We’re disappointed in the finish, but I’m really proud of the way we played,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “It’s a difficult thing for these young men right now because they came here believing they could win and they were capable of winning.
“But to lose, they had to get here and they had to battle and we did a great job of that.”
Both teams struggled with nerves in the opening minutes and missed some easy shots, leading to a 9-9 tie after the first quarter.
Adlesh banked in a 35-foot runner, jumping off his left foot, before the buzzer sounded that had a calming effect, however, and the game settled into a natural flow.
The Griffins used a zone that kept Mission Prep away from the basket for much of the game and forced the Royals into difficult shots on the inside.
The Royals finished shooting 29.6 percent from the floor and 24 percent from the 3-point line. The Griffins shot 43.6 percent from the floor and 39 percent from behind the arc.
A steal and layup by Andy Rowley tied the score at 40 early in the fourth quarter.
Rowley was matched up against point guard Austin Butler, who had a lightning-quick first step, and scored 15 points in the game and grabbed five rebounds.
A short Woolpert jumper made it 47-44 a couple of minutes later in the final quarter.
The Royals trailed 49-45 with 45 seconds left and couldn’t find the mark from long range to pull closer. The Griffins knocked down free throws to close it out to the delight of dozens of their fans.
Shooting guard Tyler Coppin-Carter had 16 points and eight rebounds and hit some key shots in the game for the Griffins.
As in football, the Royals were the last county team standing in basketball when the CIF-Southern Section finals came around.
“I know as a team, personally, we had high expectations for ourselves,” Adlesh said. “But I’m not sure the community expected us to be where we are. We came out and competed.
“I’m just a sophomore, so I hope we’ll get another chance at a CIF final,” Adlesh said. “I think we all thought we had a real good chance this year, but it is how it is. We’ll use it as fuel for the state tournament.”
Harris credited Adlesh for putting the “team on his shoulders” as other players have for the Royals throughout the year, and said he and Woolpert were “solid.”
“This was a great experience for them and the team,” Harris said. “It’s something they’ll remember. At the same time, our plan and goal was to win. It just didn’t happen for us today.”