Quentin Sims triumphantly held his shooting hand high over his head for several seconds, trotting back down court, ready to celebrate.
The Righetti High forward had just made a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to put his Warriors up 53-43 over Arroyo Grande with nearly four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter at James Gym on Friday night.
“That was like the dagger to me,” Sims said. “It gave me goose bumps. I knew right there we were going to win the game.”That Righetti did, 58-53, to claim the PAC 7 league championship outright.
The Eagles, who had entered a game back in the league standings, hoped to share the title by completing a season sweep of the Warriors, whom they had edged 81-74 on Jan. 22 in Santa Maria.
Arroyo Grande (19-7, 8-4), though, which entered ranked No. 5 in Division III-AA of the CIF-Southern Section, after starting the season 17-3 overall and 6-0 in league play, continued to struggle shooting from the outside, losing for the fourth time in six games.
“I was pleased with our effort level,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “I told the guys, it’s not possible for us to play much harder than we did tonight. The effort was there. It just comes down to shooting the basketball.”
The Warriors (20-5, 10-2), the sixth-ranked team in Division II-A, were 10 of 13 at the free-throw line compared to Arroyo Grande’s 5-of-15 performance, and sank eight 3-pointers compared to the Eagles’ four.
“We showed great composure,” Righetti coach Kevin Barbarick said. “(Winning the title) is a culmination of a lot of hard work. This team worked hard, stayed together and has been very unselfish. They’re a pleasure to coach, and this is a great reward.”
Nick Sauer had a game-high 16 points for Righetti from his center spot before fouling out, while Sims finished with 14.
Point guard Michael Escobedo led Arroyo Grande with 12, followed by Kyle Kleinsmith’s 10 and Derick Beasley’s eight.
In the teams’ first meeting this year, Escobedo erupted for 32 points.
“We just made sure we helped and played good team defense,” Sauer said of the adjustment.
The Warriors also got strong defensive contributions from rangy 6-foot-4 sophomore Hunter Walker, who was matched up with Escobedo for much of the night.
“The last time, they made all those shots,” Barbarick said. “Part of it (Friday) was they hit a cold streak, but we did a good job of contesting shots.”
Sauer had several key plays, giving the Warriors their largest lead of the night, at 50-39, on a layup, and pushing the lead to 55-45 on another basket in the paint with just over three minutes remaining.
“Nick was getting doubled and tripled, and he always seems to make the best decision,” Barbarick said. “I think Nick’s the best player in the PAC 7.”
The Eagles, who had hoped to claim their first league championship since 2001, went 20-9 a year ago, peaking late in the season en route to a divisional semifinals appearance.
Early Friday, the teams traded baskets, with the first quarter ending in a 13-13 tie. The Eagles pulled ahead 25-23 by halftime, and early in the second half, took their largest lead of the contest at 31-23 on a no-look pass by Matt McAustin to Beasley underneath for an easy bucket.
Righetti, however, sped up the pace, and promptly answered with a 17-4 run midway through the third, going up 40-35 on a three-point play by Van Holloway.
“Righetti likes to shoot a lot of 3s out of transition,” Glanville said. “We were trying to slow the pace down and be more patient. We did a really good job of that for two-and-a-half quarters, and then we got caught up in (the faster style of play), and the lead was gone.”
Righetti’s only loss since the previous matchup with Arroyo Grande came Feb. 3 to Atascadero, 63-62 on a halfcourt game-winner in the closing seconds. The Warriors are hoping to be a top-three seed when divisional playoff pairings are announced Sunday afternoon, while Arroyo Grande could possibly open the postseason on the road, Glanville said.
“Righetti was a better team shooting the basketball, and that was the difference in tonight’s game,” Glanville said. “I think Righetti is definitely the best team in the league, and they proved that tonight. Congratulations to them.”