For the second year in a row, the Mission Prep boys basketball team was within striking distance of Central Valley Christian in the CIF-Central Section Division V championship game.
But after cutting the Cavaliers’ lead to just two points, the Royals gave up a 24-10 run Friday to fall 53-37 to the Cavaliers at Selland Arena in Fresno.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do in terms of managing the game and playing defense,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “We just didn’t finish very well on offense.”
The late-game turn of events bore a resemblance to last year’s result, when Mission Prep was outscored 14-2 over the closing six minutes to fall 75-60 in that final.
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Top-seeded CVC (25-4) got 17 points and 13 rebounds from Grant Verhoeven, a 6-foot-8 center rated by ESPNU as one of the best sophomore college basketball recruits on the West Coast.
Despite the loss, second-seeded Mission Prep (13-16) had already clinched a berth in the Southern California Regionals on Tuesday by virtue of making it to the final. The Royals will likely open on the road. Seedings and pairings will be announced Sunday.
“It’s going to be tough,” Harris said of the pending regional draw. “By losing tonight, we didn’t put ourselves in a favorable situation. We’re probably going to get one of the top seeds (as an opponent), and we’ll have a challenge on our hands.”
Senior shooting guard Kevin Laird paced the Royals with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
“Kevin’s a fighter — he’s a battler,” Harris said. “He’s always going to give his ‘A’ effort out there, as did everyone else tonight. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
As a whole, Mission Prep was 16-of-62 shooting and had six shots blocked. Verhoeven wasn’t the only Cavaliers big man to make his presence felt, as 6-5 power forward Derek Van Grouw added 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a pair of steals.
“They were definitely tough to score over,” Harris said of the Cavaliers’ tandem inside. “The six blocked shots were only a fraction of the impact they made. They changed a ton of shots just being in the key.”
CVC held a commanding 26-10 lead in the second quarter, but the Royals rattled off a 17-3 run to cut the deficit to 29-27 on back-to-back layups by point guard Sam Cowitz and power forward Ray Hurwitz. That, however, set off a Cavaliers surge to the finish, as they took a 35-27 lead on a Verhoeven dunk.
Mission Prep lost 59-53 to CVC a month ago in the regular season. The Royals, who made it to the final by ousting Fresno Christian 55-33, entered Friday as the 24th-ranked team in all of the Central Section, while CVC — which had drubbed Laton 73-32 in its semifinal matchup — was 18th.
The Royals girls will take on Corcoran in the Division IV championship game at 10 this morning, also at Selland Arena.
The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.