LA CAÑADA — In crucial moments at the end of the final two quarters, Kevin Ashworth came up huge.
Ashworth, a sophomore, secured a first-round playoff victory for the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team with clutch free throws at the end of the game, in between key defensive plays, as visiting Centennial attempted a last-minute comeback, but was turned away by the Rebels, who won, 58-49, in the CIF Division 4-AA first-round tilt on Wednesday night.
Nearing the end of the third quarter, Ashworth's effort highlighted the tone of the game when he saved a ball going out of bounds to teammate Nick Davis who laid it in at the buzzer. The play gave Flintridge Prep momentum going into the fourth of an intense playoff game.
"He's poised and showed confidence down the stretch," Rebels coach Garrett Ohara said of Ashworth. "He's a good free throw shooter and plays good defense. I'm proud of the way he stepped up."
Ashworth was just one Rebel to have an impact against the bigger Apaches.
"We played as a team, moved the ball, stayed calm and composed," said Johnny Le, who led the team with 19 points. "At the half, coach told us we're the [team] playing together."
The Rebels (14-11) moved on to Friday's second round where they will take to the road to face No. 1 seed Hillcrest, which defeated Heritage, 67-46.
Flintridge Prep led for all but the first 1:58 of the game against Centennial (13-13), but it was a tight game throughout.
AJ Nicassio, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, helped shake off the playoff nerves with six early points. Majeed Ismail's three-pointer at the end of the first quarter gave the Rebels a 12-8 lead after one.
"I thought we played tremendous defense," Ohara said. "Sometimes it's hard for us to score, but we held the lead and played team ball. Limiting them to 20 first-half points was huge."
The Rebels took a 28-20 lead at halftime and as many as 11 in the third before Centennial used a quick 9-0 run midway through to cut the deficit to five.
Davis' basket after Ashworth's hustle play gave Flintridge Prep a 42-35 lead, but the Rebels' scorekeeper's error gave them an extra two points. The score was upheld and the teams went to the fourth at 44-35, advantage Rebels.
"I just wanted to save the ball and make a play," Ashworth said. "I knew there was little time, so I wanted to get it to a teammate as quickly as possible."
Centennial made a strong push in the final frame and was within two points early on. But Flintridge Prep maintained the lead, partly due to nine free throws in the quarter.