Mission Prep’s boys basketball team was at a disadvantage in size and athleticism against Saddleback Valley Christian High of San Juan Capistrano in its quarterfinal contest Tuesday in CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA playoffs.
But the Royals found a way to win through better passing and a gritty defensive performance, along with clutch play at the right moments, in a 54-48 victory at home.
They now have an eight-game win streak heading into the semifinals.
Sophomore guard Quinton Adlesh scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Royals.
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Senior forward Connor Woolpert had eight points and eight rebounds playing only 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
Adlesh’s performance included two clutch 3-pointers late in the third quarter to build a 38-34 lead for Mission Prep going into the final stretch.
“This team always finds a way to win,” Adlesh said. “We grind out games. Tonight, I didn’t think we played our best. But maybe that’s a good thing because that means our best is yet to come.”
The Royals were tasked with guarding 6-foot-7 Irshaad Hunte as well as two other players about 6-4 in Nick Worrell and Eric Rwahwire.
Nobody in the Royals starting lineup is listed above 6-1 except for Woolpert, a 6-5 senior center.
The Royals (21-7) used a collective team effort and press to force the Warriors (25-6) into numerous turnovers, including a stretch in the second quarter when Saddleback made about six consecutive turnovers — including a half-court time violation, traveling calls, and errant passes.
The Royals led 20-17 at the half.
“I knew if we tried to slow it down, that would take them out of their offensive rhythm,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said. “By making them make three and four passes, they couldn’t just bring it up and go.”
The wildest sequence of plays took place in the second quarter after Warriors sophomore guard Dontae Caldwell threw down a dunk and got called for a technical for taunting.
After a blocked shot against the Royals, Caldwell then took a breakaway down the court and appeared ready for another highlight reel moment, but the rim had other thoughts and his attempted dunk was stuffed on the botched throwdown.
The Royals held a small lead throughout much of the game, but the game got tight early in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors grabbed a two-point lead but missed four consecutive missed free throws.
Then Mission Prep senior point guard Andy Rowley made a driving layup and was fouled on the shot as he converted a 3-point play and regained a one-point lead for his team with 6:32 left. Rowley finished with 11 points and four assists.
Shooting only 34 percent in the game and 16 percent from behind the 3-point arc, the Royals had to rely on their intangibles and gave the Warriors no easy looks at the rim with pressure defense.
Junior Patrick Laird had the difficult task of defending Rwahwire and held him to eight points, making a key block by swatting the ball out of his hands in the final minute.
The ball bounced off of Rwahwire and out of bounds, giving the Royals a key possession.
Laird made the clinching free throw on a one-and-one attempt to put the Royals ahead 52-48 with 19 seconds left. Laird finished with nine points.
“We knew he was their creator and he liked to drive and shoot,” Laird said. “My goal was to lock him down. I’m pretty excited with this win. This is awesome.”