As the packed student section streamed onto Cowitz Court and engulfed the Mission Prep boys basketball team in celebration, coach Terrance Harris had to quickly cut the jubilation short and pull his players back to the sideline to form the game-ending handshake line.
So the Royals still need to work out the kinks of being league champions, but in their first season in the PAC 8, they will at worst wear part of the crown.
Brandon Jones sparked a second-half run with 10 third-quarter points, Carter Gran and Matthew Blaney both hit three 3-pointers, and Mission Prep got a total team effort in a 58-52 win over Righetti on Wednesday to grab sole possession of first place with one game remaining.
“Once we found out we were in a league, this was the goal,” said Jones, a senior guard who finished with a team-high 19 points. “We felt we could compete with all the teams on the Central Coast. We felt we’ve proven that the last two years, and it’s just great to reach that milestone.”
A win over crosstown rival San Luis Obispo (9-18, 2-11) at home Friday will give Mission Prep (19-5, 12-1) the outright PAC 8 championship.
“We’re excited tonight, but we’re still focused on the goal,” Harris said. “They are young men, and they earned a victory tonight. I want them to enjoy it, but (today) we really do have to buckle down and get ready to face a team that’s going to be gunning for us.”
Righetti (20-6, 11-2), which boasts three starters at least 6-foot-6, including Stanford-bound wing Cameron Walker, dominated the glass with 20 offensive rebounds in a 66-50 home win over the Royals on Jan. 21.
Mission Prep preached boxing out in the buildup to this game, and forced 17 turnovers to get running in transition and negate the severe height disadvantage.
“We got killed on the boards the last time we played them,” said Jones, who scored six straight points to open the third quarter and stake the Royals to their largest lead of the game, 35-23. “We battled on the boards tonight.”
And they took their open looks.
The Warriors focused their defensive effort on stopping sharpshooter Quinton Adlesh, who finished with 10 points, which created space for the other four Royals on the court.
Gran, a sophomore, finished with 12 points, and Blaney, a junior, made all three of his triples in the first half.
“We were prepared, and we were ready,” Gran said. “I knew I had nothing to lose, and I was just after it.”
Jones had four field goals in the third quarter, hitting a deep turnaround jumper in front of 6-6 Aaron Laflin on a feed from a double-teamed Adlesh to close the quarters.
“(Adlesh) gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so,” Jones said. “So when they are double-teaming him, it’s on me and the other guys to step up. I knew I had some mismatches, so I just wanted to be aggressive.
“It was a great team win.”
Walker finished with a game-high 24 points and added a handful of high-flying blocks, but when he got hot, the rest of the Warriors cooled off.
He had all but four of Righetti’s 17 points in the middle two quarters as the Royals turned a 15-14 first-quarter deficit into a 41-32 lead heading into the fourth.
“We were just a little bit out of sync,” Warriors coach Kevin Barbarick said. “We got stagnant a little bit, and we didn’t play as well offensively as we usually do, which had a lot to do with the defense.”
Walker hit a pair of deep 3s late as Righetti tried to mount a comeback, but Mission Prep made its first nine free throws of the fourth quarter to keep the visitors at bay, including a 4-for-4 showing by sophomore Kyle Stewart.
As the seconds started to drain away and the outcome became more and more clear, the Royals — 18-0 against San Luis Obispo County competition the past two seasons but still feeling they had something to prove — started to feel the weight of their accomplishment. Once all the handshakes were completed, it was time to revel in it.
“We had been hyping this one for a while — we knew this was the big one,” Jones said. “It was awesome to see all the students, all the parents and the community come together.
“That’s the best high school basketball I’ve been around. Playoffs last year had a similar feel, but this one was just special.”