Heading into the fourth quarter with only one point separating the two teams, Tuesday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA quarterfinal between sixth-seeded Laguna Beach and No. 3 seed Mission Prep appeared headed for a to-the-wire finish.
The hometown Royals had other ideas.
Mission Prep scored 12 of the first 13 points in the final quarter, turning a back-and-forth battle into a decisive 59-52 victory.
“I knew that if we were going to come out of this, it wasn’t going to be one where the other team lays down,” coach Terrance Harris said. “We were going to have to earn it.”
The Royals did just that, earning their 17th straight win and the right to host second-seeded Oaks Christian on Friday at 7 p.m. for a chance to return to the finals for the second straight year.
“Every kid on this team comes in every day trying to get better,” said Quinton Adlesh, who had a team-high 17 points to go along with nine assists and seven rebounds. “None of us are settling for mediocrity. We’re always striving for greatness.”
Kerney Lane and Brandon Jones both scored 12 points, including nine in the fourth quarter from Jones, who went 4 of 6 from the foul line and knocked down a corner 3-pointer on a dish from Adlesh to put Mission Prep ahead 47-39.
There were plenty of noteworthy performances on the defensive end as well, starting with Patrick Laird, who came off the bench to shut down sharpshooter Alec Wulff after the Breakers guard scored seven points in the first quarter.
Laird held him to just four in the other three.
“Pat Laird is a great athlete, a smart player and a great defender,” Harris said. “We have always counted on Pat to be one of those guys that can just go and guard anyone on the court. And tonight, he stepped up big.”
Laird, a 6-foot senior known more for running past defenders on the football field than chasing them down on the hardwood, ran up and down the court with Wulff, never giving the 6-3 guard another open look.
“Coach Harris told me earlier in the week that he’s got this guy for me to lock down,” said Laird, who hadn’t played significant minutes all season because of a nagging ankle injury from football.
“It just felt good to be back.”
When Harris finally subbed Laird out with 15 seconds left and a victory well in hand, the coach grabbed the weary senior and said with a smile, “Welcome back.”
“To be honest, we hadn’t really been able to immerse him in the rotation,” Harris said. “It’s taken him until the last couple days to really be himself on the court.
“But he got a chance to go out there and play defense, and that’s what he does.”
After back-to-back road games to open the playoffs, Mission Prep (24-4) was eager to play in front of its home crowd.
But the energy didn’t translate to success out of the gate.
The Royals couldn’t buy a bucket in the first quarter, scoring all six of their points on layups while the Breakers (23-6) built a 10-point lead. Wulff had the game’s first five points and an open cut to the basket to put his team up 11-2.
“We were getting sliced up defensively and we weren’t making shots,” Harris said. “That’s not a good recipe for success.”
But once Laird started hounding Wulff, Mission Prep’s offense began to click and the Royals stormed back. They scored the first eight points of the second quarter, and tied the score on back-to-back fastbreak layups from Laird.
Kyle Stewart corralled a rebound from a long Adlesh misfire and put it back up and in to give the Royals their first lead of the game, 20-18.
Mission Prep (24-4) led 27-25 at halftime and 40-39 through three quarters after Noah Blanton’s 3-pointer pulled the Breakers within one heading into the final frame.
The Royals won the fourth quarter and with it a spot in the semifinals for the third straight season.
“I think we did a good job of staying mentally focused,” Adlesh said. “Because when your shots aren’t falling, it’s hard to play defense, it’s hard to hustle. We got down big (early) … but we battled and came back, and that says a lot about our team.”