BURBANK — Throughout the season, the Providence High boys’ basketball team has endured a number of tough situations.
After traveling nearly 400 miles in the last week, the No. 11-seeded Pioneers finally had a home game in the CIF State Division III Southern California Regionals on Saturday against No. 15 Fountain Valley in the semifinal round.
The Barons challenged the hosts early in the game, leading for much of the first quarter, and exchanged baskets with the hosts in the second, as the Pioneers began to gain momentum.
Providence pulled away in the fourth quarter and went on to earn a 78-58 victory over Fountain Valley to advance to the regional final.
Providence (28-7) becomes the first area boys’ basketball team to reach the regional final and first program to do so since the Bellarmine-Jefferson girls’ squad in 2017.
“They had a lot of tough guys to guard over there and we had to mix it up to slow them down,” Providence coach Brandon Lincoln said. “It worked out for us. We kind of disrupted them and threw off their tempo, but we just had to grind it out. It wasn’t pretty. We had a three in the last seconds of the second quarter to go up three in the half and we just kept chipping away.
“The experience and our guys being through adversity, they stayed in it. Even though some calls didn’t go our way in the third, it really gave ourselves an opportunity to put some possessions together to give us a little bit of cushion.”
The Pioneers, the Prep League champions and CIF Southern Section Division III-AA semifinalist, will travel once again in the state playoffs in a regional finals showdown against No. 5 Arroyo Grande at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Eagles (27-6) reached the CIF Central Section Open Division semifinal round and captured the Central Coast Mountain League title.
Pioneers senior A’Jahni Levias scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Providence senior Jordan Shelley chipped in with 24 points.
Fountain Valley junior Jeremiah Davis scored 19 points and finished with six rebounds and sophomore Roddie Anderson recorded seven points, five rebounds and six assists for the Barons, the Wave League runner-up and CIF Southern Section Division III-A semifinalist.
“I just think we got stagnant,” Fountain Valley coach DCean Bryant said. “They ran their press and it was one of the things that we watched on film and weren’t too worried about it. The issue was that we didn’t attack once we broke it. We went and said ‘let’s run something,’ instead of attacking.
“In the first half, we did that when they tried to run it. We attacked and attacked and scored. That’s what we always talked about too is to attack the press.”
After finishing the third quarter scoring five unanswered points for a 51-42 lead, Providence established an 11-point advantage with a basket on a baseline drive from Shelley to start the fourth quarter.
A score from Levias was countered by Davis moments later and kept the Barons within the Pioneers’ lead, 55-44.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Shelley and senior Michael Joanou extended the Providence lead to 61-44, before a pair of baskets from Levias set up a 21-point cushion for the Pioneers, capping a 19-2 run with 4:47 left.
“Coach really wants us to be a transition team,” Levias said. “I think once we got rebounds, looked up and ran the floor, I think that’s what got us going.”
Fountain Valley (21-10) held the lead for the majority of the opening quarter and led, 13-6, with 2:52 left in the frame.
“We didn’t seem alert in the first few minutes,” Lincoln said. “They came out with a ton of energy and we didn’t really match that at the start of the first quarter. Once we settled in, guys started making plays and we got ourselves going, defensively.”
A three-point play and a put-back basket from Levias and a three-pointer from Whitaker closed the quarter with an 8-0 Providence run for its the Pioneers’ first lead of the game, 14-13.
“I thought we were playing too tight and were focusing too much on offense and not enough on defense,” Levias said. “Once we get going on defense, I think the offense will come to us, and I think that’s what got us going.”
The momentum carried to the second quarter as the Pioneers pulled to a 20-15 lead on a three-point play from Shelley and another three-pointer from Whitaker.
A three-point play and a pair of free throws from Davis tied the game at 20 at 6:20 in the second quarter.
The teams traded off lead changes twice and were knotted six times before a three-pointer from Levias gave Providence a 33-30 advantage at the half.
“It was an unbelievable season,” Bryant said. “This was a team that won nine games last season. People constantly told us we couldn’t do it and it wasn’t us against anybody, but we bet on ourselves. No matter if you win or lose, people are going to tell you what you can or cannot do.
“We were just going to push through and learn along the way. I said that once we got to the playoffs, we’ll see what happens. You never know what happens and you saw what happened.”