Mission Prep junior Parker Jones is the ultimate role player. Most of the time he’s deep on the bench and comes in when one of the starters needs a breather.
But on Friday night in a raucous San Luis Obispo High School gym, that role was a starring one.
Jones’ steal and subsequent free throws with three seconds left in regulation forced overtime and helped the first-place Royals boys basketball team hold on to beat San Luis Obispo 71-68 in a thriller to seize control of the PAC 8.
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The game was tight and the crowd was loose right from the start. SLO High junior Mac McConnell came out firing and had 11 first-quarter points off the bench to give the Tigers an 18-16 lead.
Mission Prep junior Kyle Stewart answered with a big second quarter of his own, scoring eight points to give the Royals a 34-32 lead going into halftime. It was 47-46 in favor of Mission Prep at the start of what would be one of the wildest fourth quarters the PAC 8 has seen this season.
Moore battles Gran
SLO High senior Seth Moore came alive in the fourth quarter after scoring just one point in the first half. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and 15 points in the second half. His 3-point basket with five minutes to play put the Tigers up 51-47 and sent the SLO High student section into a frenzy.
But Carter Gran, who finished with 20 points, had the answer.
The Mission Prep senior scored on a three-point play a few possessions later and before you knew it, the Royals were back in front, 54-53. The two exchanged blows again with less than a minute to go in regulation. First it was Gran with the 3-pointer, then Moore, who finished with 18 points, with three points the old fashioned way to put SLO High up 62-60 with under 30 seconds left.
It looked like SLO High was going to beat Mission Prep for the first time since 2011 when McConnell hit two free throws to give the Tigers a four-point lead with 9.9 seconds left, but the Royals weren’t dead yet.
Moore helped SLO High stay in it in the fourth quarter, but his foul on Vince Ricigliano with 5.5 seconds left gave the Royals life. Ricigliano hit both free throws to make it a 64-62 game. Then Mission Prep head coach Terrence Harris called a time out.
“I asked the team, ‘Do you still believe?’ ” Harris said. “They all said yes. And they proved it.”
Harris inserted Jones, who hadn’t seen the court since the first half, to get a steal. And Jones delivered.
When the in-bounds pass deflected off the outstretched hand of of Carson O’Connor, Jones was there to scoop it up. He was immediately fouled and stepped to the line with 3.3 seconds left.
“I just knew that there was no way I was going to let SLO High beat us, especially with this rivalry,” Jones said. “I just knew I had to make those shots and win us the game.”
With the SLO High student chanting “choke,” the lefty made both free throws to tie the game and force overtime.
“Parker has proven over and over again that he’s an outstanding defender,” Harris said. “He has proven that he is trustworthy, and he showed it in the game.”
Mission Prep continued to take advantage of foul calls at the free-thow line. Ricigliano went 3 of 4 in overtime and 6 of 6 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to help Mission Prep pull out the win. He finished with 16 points, only five points came on field goals.
SLO High head coach Jeff Brandow was furious with the two-man officiating crew after the loss and pointed at the free-throw discrepancy. Mission Prep was 28 of 36 from the free-throw line while SLO High was 8 of 12.
“It’s hard to play five-versus-seven,” Brandow said.
Harris credited his team’s aggressiveness in getting to the hoop and drawing fouls.
Mission Prep’s win was even more crucial considering what happened in Santa Maria on Friday night. Righetti, the only team to beat Mission Prep this season, pulled off the upset win over St. Joseph, 58-45. The Royals win, paired with the Knights loss, gives Mission Prep (19-8, 11-1 PAC 8) a two-game cushion over St. Joseph (20-5, 9-3 PAC 8) with two games to play. The two teams will play again Tuesday in Santa Maria.