PROVIDENCE HIGH — Marcus LoVett Jr. and Patrick Gonzalez have led the Providence High boys' basketball team all season. So it seemed fitting that the two players were also instrumental in guiding the Pioneers to their first-ever CIF Southern Section championship game.
LoVett was stellar from the free-throw line and Gonzalez put on a three-point shooting exhibition to pace host Providence to a 74-61 win against Kilpatrick on Friday in a Division V-A semifinal game.
Just a freshman, LoVett led all scorers with 45 points. He converted 22 of his 27 free-throw attempts, including hitting 14 in the fourth quarter. In addition, he sank three three-pointers. Gonzalez, a senior, make good on six three-pointers in posting a 24-point game that included 12 rebounds and eight steals.
"When they double-team Marcus, I just try to help out and get open," said Gonzalez, who led the state in scoring and three-pointers last season. "If I'm open, I take the shot. Shooters shoot."
The appearance in the semifinal was historic for the No. 1-seeded Pioneers, (25-4), who had never gotten past the quarterfinals in the postseason. That makes the program's appearance in a CIF basketball final special for the Providence players.
"It was a goal of ours to make it to the finals," LoVett said. "It was an accomplishment that we worked really hard to get."
The Pioneers will be trying to win just the school's second CIF Southern Section championship. The only other title came in 1986 when a Jeff Cirillo-led baseball team captured a Small Schools title.
Although Providence won't know when it will play for the division title until details are released by the CIF on Tuesday, the Pioneers definitely know something about their opponent in the final. The Pioneers, who won the Liberty League championship, will be taking on league runner-up Holy Martyrs.
The No. 3-seeded Armens had to come from behind to defeat No. 2 Rolling Hills Prep, 48-47, on the road Friday in a semifinal.
The Pioneers defeated Holy Martyrs (19-11) twice this season, 56-53, and, 62-54.
"It's always harder to beat a team the third time around," Providence first-year Coach Ernest Baskerville said. "Both times we were up by 20 at the half and they came back to make it a closer game. At least we know what to expect from them.
"But the kids are excited about being in the final. No matter who they would have put in front of us, we were going to be ready to play."
The Pioneers didn't open the game strongly against the No. 4 Mustangs, who placed fifth in the Delphic League and earned an at-large berth into the playoffs. Providence missed its first four shots from the field and couldn't convert its attempts from three-point range.
Fortunately for the Pioneers, Kilpatrick committed seven turnovers in the first quarter, as the teams were knotted at 12.
In the second, both squads struggled from the floor, with Kilpatrick going five of 20 (25%) and Providence going four of 16 (25%). The Pioneers were also outrebounded, 18-7, in the second. Despite that disadvantage, the Pioneers went into halftime with a 25-23 lead, thanks largely to three three-pointers and 10 points from Gonzalez.
"They are very active on the boards," Baskerville said of Kilpatrick. "We were concerned about rebounding coming in. But I thought we did a lot better job at rebounding in the second half."
LoVett and Gonzalez led the attack in the third quarter, as both tallied 11 points. While the Pioneers converted five of their first seven field-goal attempts, the Mustangs hit just one of their first eight. Taking advantage of its opponent's shooting woes, Providence built up a 14-point lead, 40-26.
Kilpatrick fought back in the third, however, and was down by nine heading into the fourth quarter, 49-40.
The Mustangs' Ron Hardy made a layup to open the fourth quarter to bring his team to within seven. But that's as close as Kilpatrick would come.
LoVett and Gonzalez accounted for 70 of the Pioneers' 74 points, with one basket coming from senior Kellen Smith and a pair of free throws coming from Justin Sarenas. The lopsided scoring doesn't bother Baskerville.
"It's worked for us so far, and we're winning," Baskerville said.