BURBANK — It’s a master plan carefully laid out by Brandon Lincoln.
The second-year Providence High boys’ basketball coach has his team play a rigorous schedule this season that included nonleague and tournament games against successful programs and higher division teams.
While the Pioneers have taken their lumps against teams like Brentwood, Crossroads, Palasades and Chaminade, they have also registered quality wins against Loyola, Narbonne and Glendora.
Lincoln was hoping the tough schedule would have Providence battle tested for Prep League competition as well as the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
That strategy has paid dividends in a big way.
Top-seeded Providence continued its impressive playoff run Saturday by defeating Orange Vista, 73-54, in a Division IV-A semifinal contest at home to earn the program its second appearance in a championship game.
“As coach Lincoln says, those game really battle tested us,” Providence junior Jordan Shelley said. “Going away from our home court and playing against [Division] I schools in games like that, even losing helped us come back and play better as a team.
“We played some tough games and that just helped to make us better.”
Said Lincoln: “The plan has really worked out better than I even thought it would. Gong against those teams that really shocked us with their physical play, their pressure, their scrappy play and their grit, it wasn’t a shock when we faced a team in the playoffs like Pomona or Orange Vista.
“It was really just a way of toughening us up and making us play better basketball.”
Providence (26-6), which won the Prep League title, earns a place in a CIF championship game for only the second time in program history. The last time the Pioneers earned a finals berth was in 2012 when a Marcus LoVett Jr-led squad fell in the V-A title game to Holy Martyrs in overtime, 65-62.
The Pioneers will face Ribet Academy in the championship at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Colony High. Ribet Academy (22-3), Harbor League champions, defeated No. 2 Orange Lutheran, 63-48, in its semifinal game Saturday.
“We have worked hard to get to this CIF championship game,” Providence junior A’Jahni Levias said. “Practices at 6:00 in the morning or 9 p.m. practices. This was our goal that we set and we knew we could accomplish it.
“We have worked too hard and put in too much to not reach our goal now. We have come too far … We want this.”
Levias stepped up for the Pioneers against No. 4 Orange Vista (22-8), which finished runner-up in the Sunbelt League. The junior led all scorers with 27 points to go along with nine rebounds.
Shelley added 13 points and Bryce Whitaker and Jonas Holt added 12 points each.
A productive start helped the Pioneers settle in early against the visiting Coyotes. With Levias accounting for 11 points in the first quarter, Providence jumped out to a 7-0 lead and held a 27-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
But shooting woes by the Pioneers and a surging Orange Vista squad ate into Providence’s lead in the second quarter. With the Pioneers converting just four of 16 shots from the field in the stanza, the Coyotes outscored the hosts, 18-9, and Providence went into halftime with a 36-30 advantage..
“When we struggle like that, we just try and stick together and that’s our main focus,” Levias said. “When we stick together, we’re able to get over those bumps and we come together as a team. The energy really builds from there and we just keep it going.
“When they went on a run, we just stuck together and told each other we can get this lead back to where we want it to be.”
In the third quarter, the Pioneers did come back and create some breathing room. An 8-0 run that culminated with a three-pointer by Levias with 5:07 left increased the advantage to 46-33.
But Orange Vista didn’t cave in, and instead embarked on an 8-0 run of its own to cut the lead to 46-41 and then to 48-44 with 1:33 renaming. Providence scored the final six points of the third on two three-pointers from Whitaker to take a 54-44 lead into the final quarter.
A 6-0 run to start the fourth fueled Providence, which led, 60-44 with 6:17 remaining. The lead was never threatened thereafter.
Orange Vista was led by Isiah Shirley, who had 17 points.
Lincoln said he expects a tough challenge for his squad in the championship game.
“Ribet is going to be physical, they have talent, they have depth and they can score,” he said. “They are gong to be in our face and they are a scrappy team.