LA CANADA — The Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team stressed that this season's regular-season victory against Mission Prep didn't make a difference in its rematch against the Royals in Friday's CIF Southern Section Division V-AA semifinals.
Rebel guard Robert Cartwright said the Royals were determined to exact revenge and Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara noted that Mission Prep was a different squad than the one his team defeated by 14 last month.
The Rebels were right.
Led by Connor Woolpert, who didn't play against the Rebels earlier this season, the Royals played like a better team.
Woolpert had a game-high 22 points to lead Mission Prep to a 60-58 victory at La Canada High.
The Royals (23-7) will play in the division's championship game two years after the Rebels defeated the Royals in the final four en route to their first CIF title.
The second-seeded Rebels (22-6) had plans of advancing to their second CIF title game in three years with another win against the third-seeded Royals.
A quarter into Friday's contest, it appeared Flintridge Prep would advance to the championship game.
The Rebels hit eight of 18 shots and limited the Royals to four made field goals, as they took an 18-8 lead after eight minutes.
“Even if we were up by 20, we knew it was going to be a close game,” said Rebel senior center Kareem Ismail, who had four of his team-high 15 points and four of his 11 rebounds in the opening quarter. “We still had to keep pressing.”
Instead, it was Mission Prep that pressed the Rebels into tough shots. The Royals also made more of their shots.
Woolpert, who missed games this season with a shoulder injury, simply took over in the second and third quarters, as the Royals outscored the Rebels, 39-24, in the 16 minutes.
He hit four three-pointers — “it felt like a lot more,” Ohara said — and scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the two quarters, bringing the Royals back and leading them to a five-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
“He got his confidence,” Mission Prep Coach Terrance Harris said. “He's a good player. We just needed him to hit some shots.”
Woolpert hit two buzzer-beating three-pointers that frustrated the Rebels.
His first three-pointer beat the halftime buzzer, bringing the Royals to within three.
His fourth three-pointer showed what type of night he had.
After Cartwright sank a basket with two seconds left in the third quarter to bring the Rebels to within two, Woolpert took the inbound pass and heaved a shot from near the opposite three-point line. It went in and appeared to deflate the Rebels.
“He made some deep shots, some contested shots,” Ohara said.
Cartwright started making some shots of his own in the fourth.
The junior was two of 11 from the field in the first three quarters before making two consecutive shots — including his only three-pointer — to start the fourth. He missed his final four shots, though, finishing four of 17 from the field for 11 points.
“Things were tough for him,” Ohara said. “He feels responsible, but it's not one guy when we win, and it's not one guy when we lose.”
Jedrick Eugenio (11 points), Tyler Weakland (eight points) and Kyle Hamane (seven points and four assists) stepped in with key baskets when Cartwright struggled.
Eugenio's jumper gave the Rebels a 55-53 lead — its first advantage since early in the third quarter — with 2:41 remaining. Free throws by the Royals and missed Rebel shots allowed Mission Prep to take a 59-58 lead with 20.8 seconds remaining.
Weakland made a three-pointer with 13 seconds remaining to cut Mission Prep's lead to one.
After Patrick Laird made one of two free throws, the Rebels had a chance to tie the score or win the game.
Cartwright and Hamane each missed shots in the end, allowing the Royal fans to storm the court to celebrate with their classmates.
Despite the tears of his players in the end, Ohara said his team will remember the deep run in the playoffs in a memorable season.
Said Ohara: “The kids are going to remember the chance to go to the final.”