It kept a season alive, yet still might be the end of an era.
All that immediately mattered to the Mission Prep boys basketball team in Tuesday’s game was that it didn’t become the next St. Joseph.
The Royals survived a late rally to take a 46-44 over visiting St. Monica Catholic of Santa Monica in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA quarterfinals just four days after the Mariners ended the Knights’ season with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Santa Maria last week.
St. Monica (19-10) never got off a shot in the final seconds against the man-to-man defense of Mission Prep (18-10), which had Connor Woolpert secure a loose ball as the clock ran out to send the Royals to a semifinal matchup against Flintridge Prep of La Cañada on Friday.
Sam Cowitz had a game-high 14 points, Andy Rowley added 13, Woolpert scored seven, and 6-foot-6 center Zach Allmon returned in limited duty off the bench for the first time since spraining his ankle nearly three weeks ago to help secure the victory.
Cowitz is the last of four children of Royals girls basketball program founder, and the late, Jay Cowitz to come through Mission Prep.
Unless the Royals are able to advance far enough to earn a home game in the state playoffs, Sam Cowitz has played his last game on the floor bearing his name.
Jay Cowitz died of pancreatic cancer in 2003 after guiding the Mission Prep girls to appearances in four state title games and getting the Royals started on a state record streak that ended up at 16 consecutive CIF section divisional titles.
The Tribune’s girls basketball player of the year honor is named after him, as is Cowitz Court.
“It means a lot,” Sam Cowitz said. “I definitely have a legacy. It’s fun stepping out on that court every night and seeing my name. But, you know, I just like to think of the team.”
When the team needed a big play, Mission Prep boys coach Terrance Harris looked to Sam Cowitz and told him it was his court. Rowley called Cowitz the team’s engine.
It was Cowitz’s driving, double-clutch layup with 30 seconds left in the third quarter that gave the Royals the lead for good, but it didn’t end the drama.
From that point on, Mission Prep never led by more than four, and St. Monica had several chances to pull off another shocking comeback.
“I would be lying if I said that that did not run through my mind,” Harris said. “It definitely ran through my mind, wondering if they were going to have a last-second miracle two times in a row on the Central Coast, but I was very proud of my guys. It’s easy to get frustrated when you make a mistake.”
Troy Whiteto hit the game-winning 3-pointer against St. Joseph on Friday, and he had a team-high 13 points — eight in the first quarter alone — to lead the Mariners on Tuesday.
Teammate Brandon Hualde had 12 points, including three 3-pointers, to help keep it close as well.
On St. Monica’s penultimate possession with 31.5 seconds left, Mission Prep denied Whiteto the ball, and Royals senior Art Lane was able to force Anthony Palmeri to misfire on a drive to the hoop and clear the rebound.
Senior forward Spencer Rowley, who finished scoreless with four personal fouls, shadowed Whiteto as the Mariners struggled to pass him the ball.
“Love it,” Andy Rowley said of his brother’s defense. “He’s the best defender on the team. He’s a role player. He rebounds it. He defends. He’ll do anything for the team. That’s why he’s good.”
St. Monica had one last chance, but Nick Chaldez slipped to the floor while driving near the top of the key, and Palmeri — who finished with 11 points — was unable to get a handle of his last-ditch pass as Woolpert stepped in for the steal.
“They key was not thinking about what happened to St. Joe,” Cowitz said. “It was more about focusing on us, getting that defensive stop and just running the clock out.
“From the beginning of the week, we stressed defense, defense, defense, and we let offense follow, and I think we did a good job doing that tonight.”