Terrance Harris knew his Mission Prep boys basketball team had a tall task at hand in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs.
The Royals faced a road matchup Tuesday night with Villa Park, the division’s top-seeded and California’s 38th-ranked squad.
Yet Harris’ message to his players wasn’t one of caution.
“I told them that if we were aggressive and play together, then we have every chance to win this game,” he said.
And while Harris said that didn’t quite transpire
100 percent of the game — thanks in large part he said to Villa Park’s relentless defense — the Royals were no easy out in a 76-69 loss. The back-to-back PAC 8 champions even cut Villa Park’s lead to one point with a minute left in the game, creating some tense moments in the North Hills League champions’ home gym.
“There was a lot of emotion in the locker room after the game and a lot of disappointed young men, but that disappointment comes from how close this team was and how much love was in that locker room,” Harris said. “… As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of how this group came together as a team this season. … These young men were such a joy to coach from start to finish.”
After Mission Prep cut Villa Park’s lead to 68-67 in the waning seconds, Spartans guard Caleb Banuelos drained a 3-pointer from 4 to 5 feet from beyond the arc in the next possession that effectively put the game out of reach for the Royals (22-10). Villa Park (22-5) hit their free throws down the stretch to pull out the victory.
“That was pretty much the dagger,” Harris said.
Banuelos had six of Villa Park’s 12 threes on the night and finished with 20 points. His backcourt mate, Myles Franklin, scored a game-high 23 points.
“(Banuelos) is a great basketball player,” Harris said. “Their guys stepped up and made big plays, and as much as anything I don’t think we lost it as much as they went out and won the game.”
Vince Ricigliano had a team-high 17 points for the Royals. Carter Gran and Kyle Colvin each had 15 points, and Jake Jensen chipped in 13.
Villa Park’s lead was never more than 10 points. The Spartans led 16-12 after the first quarter, 36-31 at halftime and 62-54 at the end of the third.
“Our guys battled pretty well,” Harris said. “We just has mud a little bit of a tough time slowing down their guards. … We had times where I thought we weren’t aggressive enough, but they made it tough on us to get good shots with their pressure defense.”