ARROYO GRANDE — Just one game separated the Providence High boys’ basketball team from a trip to the CIF State Division III Championship game in Sacramento.
To reach the title game, the No. 11 Pioneers traveled to No. 5 Arroyo Grande on Tuesday in the CIF State Division III Southern California Regional final in what was Providence’s third road game of the state tournament.
A combination of costly turnovers and sharp three-point shooting from Arroyo Grande ended Providence’s historic run, as the Eagles prevailed, 79-69.
“We just tried to compose our kids,” Providence coach Brandon Lincoln said. “This was a big-time environment and it meant a lot. We tried to prepare them mentally and we watched film, so we knew what they were going to do.
“We knew we had to speed the game up a little bit and create more possessions. I think we did to start the game, but when you have as many turnovers as we had on the road against a team that’s well-oiled as they are, you’re going to have a really tough time trying to come away with a victory. Those guys are poised. They’re seniors and they have experience. They shoot the lights out of it, and they made us pay through all of our lapses.”
Providence finished 28-8 and secured its second consecutive Prep League title. The Pioneers reached the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA semifinals and were the top seed in the tournament.
In the state competition, Providence turned aside No. 6 San Marcos, No. 3 Oceanside El Camino and No. 15 Fountain Valley to become the first area boys’ team to reach the regional final and first to advance to the title contest since the Bellarmine-Jefferson girls’ basketball team in 2017.
The Eagles (28-6) made 13 of 21 shots from three-point range and hit all four from distance in the third quarter to take a double-digit lead, 57-45, at the end of the third quarter.
After giving up the early turnovers to start the game, the Eagles, the Central Coast Mountain champion and CIF Central Section Open Division semifinalist, composed themselves on defense and forced eight turnovers. Providence finished with 19 turnovers, while Arroyo Grande had 14.
“I just thought in the first three or four minutes we were a little nervous,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “We settled down and took care of the ball a little bit. They’re a really good basketball team. They have guards that can play and they have a good post game.
“Our thing is, we move the ball and find the open shot. When we make shots, we’re pretty good and we made just enough tonight to get over the hump.”
Providence senior A’Jahni Levias had 25 points and 10 rebounds and senior Jordan Shelley added 13 points and six rebounds.
Providence senior Bryce Whitaker exited the game midway into the second quarter with what appeared to be concussion-like symptoms after smashing into the wall.
“They really changed the perception of basketball at Providence,” said Lincoln of his seniors. “They were a bunch of guys that were unheralded and with not much on their resume or expectations behind them. They really turned that expectation around.
“The motto of our program has been respect. We want to earn respect and play for respect to make a name for ourselves and I think we did that for the most part. They really changed the culture around here and those guys are going to be hard to replace.”
A major factor in Arroyo Grande’s success beyond the arc was senior Robert Hutchens, who hit seven three-pointers to finish with 27 points.
“We’re a really good shooting team and we practice it a lot,” Hutchens said. “My other guards got to the rim and just kicked out to me. I had a lot of open looks and we spread the well. We just play the right way and we’re an unselfish group. That’s why we score so much every game.”
Eagles senior Gage Gomez finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals and senior Connor Angle added 17 points.
The Pioneers jumped out to a 5-0 lead and maintained a five-point advantage until 5:01 in the opening quarter.
The Eagles climbed back and tied the game at 11 on a Hutchens three with 1:15 left in the frame.
Another Hutchens three-pointer gave the Eagles a four-point lead before Levias drove to the rim cut the advantage to, 15-13, at the end of the quarter.
The Eagles’ lead grew to four before back-to-back threes from Whitaker and senior Michael Joanou (nine points) to give Pioneers a brief 19-17 lead with 4:52 remaining in the first half.
A put-back from Angle tied it at 19 and a three from Gomez gave the Eagles the lead midway in the second.
Providence stayed within two points with 1:42 left, but Arroyo Grande closed the half on an 11-2 run for a 38-27 lead at the break.
“We just had to communicate more,” Levias said. “We knew they could shoot the ball pretty well and we didn’t communicate enough, so that’s how they got their lead. I think if we did a little bit more communicating, the game would’ve been closer than it was.”
A three-pointer from Providence senior Andrew Dabbaghian (11 points) capped a 7-0 start to the second half as the Pioneers pulled to within 40-34.
But with every Pioneers basket, the Eagles responded with a three-pointer, and a long-distance shot from Gomez at the third-quarter buzzer set up a 57-45 lead.
Hutchens’ seventh and final three of the game extended the Eagles’ lead to the largest of the game, 69-52, with 5:00 remaining.
Levias scored 11 points in the fourth quarter in a late rally to to to within 10 points, but the Eagles still had a response to every Pioneer basket.
Arroyo Grande defeated No. 12 George Washington Prep, No. 4 Taft and No. 16 El Camino Real to advance to the state championship game Friday.