The goal was pretty clear for the Mission Prep boys basketball team at the start of this year: Make it back to Selland Arena.
A year ago, the Royals fell 75-60 at the 11,300-seat Fresno gym to Central Valley Christian in the CIF-Central Section Division V championship game. They’ll get a rematch shot for the title at 4 p.m. today in the same building.
“The goal has always been to get prepared to make it to this stage,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “This is what your play for, to win a championship.”
In last year’s game, Mission Prep surrendered a 14-2 deciding run over the closing six minutes. Still, though, Harris said, players who were there at the time should stay grounded in the present.
“We don’t focus on last year,” he said. “If revenge is your motivation for competing and winning, something’s wrong. Obviously, we want to beat CVC — because they’re the No. 1 seed.”
Kevin Laird has led the second-seeded Royals (13-15) in scoring (15.4 points per game) and rebounding (5.9 per game) from the wing.
This year’s Cavaliers (24-4) are less perimeter-oriented than last season’s edition, due mostly to the development of 6-foot-7 sophomore center Grant Verhoeven. Verhoeven, who is posting team highs of 20.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.9 blocks per game, is evaluated by ESPNU as “one of the more promising bigs out West in the (college recruiting) class of 2012.”
Derek Van Grouw (16.5 points, 8.3 rebounds a game), a 6-5 power forward, is also a factor inside. The Royals’ Patrick Woolpert, a 6-8 center, has proven to be a defensive presence with 2.1 blocks per contest.
“I’m confident we’re going to compete at a high level,” Harris said. “We’ve got to make sure it’s a concerted team effort to get the job done defensively.”
Of playing in such a large arena, Harris said: “Hopefully, our players won’t be in awe of the atmosphere. We have a lot of kids contributing this year who got minutes in that game last year.”
In the semifinals, Mission Prep routed Fresno Christian 55-33; CVC topped Laton 73-32. Due to the Royals not playing in a league, their schedule was pieced together to feature several highly competitive tournaments and Southern Section powers. Eight of their losses have come by eight or fewer points, including a 59-53 loss to CVC on Feb. 6.
Royals after another girls divisional title
After being seeded 14th to open the Central Section Division IV postseason, largely due to a similarly difficult regular-season schedule, the Royals girls (14-12) have rolled to three straight road wins — over third-seeded Strathmore, 43-39, sixth-seeded Lindsay, 54-39, and second-seeded San Joaquin Memorial, 50-43.
Mission Prep will meet top-seeded Corcoran (23-5), the ninth-ranked team in the Central Section, in the divisional title game at 10 a.m. Saturday, also at Selland Arena.
It will be the Royals’ 17th appearance in a sectional division final in 18 years. They claimed 12 straight Central Section Division V championships prior to last year, when the program moved up to Division IV.
Four-year varsity player Ally Kersthold has led the Royals in scoring in all three playoff games, while sophomore point guard Jenna Dunbar has been the leader over the course of the season, at 13.4 points per game.
“Our confidence is really high,” Mission Prep coach John Krossa said. “Not because of who we’re playing, but because the girls have each others’ backs, whether that’s taking a charge, making a dive, hitting a free throw, screaming from the bench, anything.”
Corcoran is led by senior forward Tabitha Torres, who boasts team-best averages of 19.3 points, 4.3 assists, 3.2 steals and 1.3 blocks.
“They’re good — no doubt about it,” Krossa said of the Panthers. “They’ve done well against the top teams in the valley. They’re battle-tested.”
Last week, the Royals claimed the Division V boys soccer championship, going an unbeaten 23-0, while the girls soccer team also advanced to its Division V final.
“We’ve got playoff fever here,” Krossa said. “It’s been pretty darn fun.”
Cruaders seek first divisional title
The North County Christian girls will host Calvary Baptist of La Verne in the Southern Section Division 6A championship game at 4:15 this afternoon at Colony High in Ontario.
The top-seeded Crusaders (18-5) — who’ve been ranked No. 1 in their division all year — advanced to the final by ousting Apple Valley Christian 54-26 in the semifinals.
They’ll be playing in their second divisional title contest in school history, as the program lost there in 2003. North County Christian has never won a divisional championship in any sport.
The Crusaders’ consistent defensive press has been a key this year, claiming 23.7 steals per game.
“It takes a lot of effort throughout the game,” Crusaders coach Alan Scarson said. “We’ve been throwing opponents off, and we’ve really reaped the benefits of doing that.”
North County Christian has been led by point guard Cristy Scarson and post players Brianna Feld and Kelsey Paulus. Both Feld and Paulus stand 5-11, which could give the Crusaders a considerable size advantage, given that both of the Cougars’ 6-footers average fewer than two points a game.
Calvary Baptist (19-7), the No. 3 seed, moved on to the final by edging Lake Arrowhead Christian 56-54 in overtime.
“I’m very optimistic about our chances,” Alan Scarson said. “We’ve worked so hard together to get to where we’re at today. From Day 1, as a team, everybody this year has learned to play their role.”