Wildcats march on

PASADENA — A fourth-quarter lead hasn't been something the Renaissance Academy basketball team can take to the bank lately.

Over the Wildcats' last two games, in fact, it's been a temporary source of security that's had a tendency to quickly evaporate.

On Thursday night, Renaissance entered the final period of its CIF Division V State Championship Southern California Regional Semifinal home game against Reedley Immanuel Christian with a two-point advantage that quickly grew to double digits.

Unlike Tuesday's semifinal win over View Park Prep, in which Renaissance was bailed out by a last-second Josh Thomas three-pointer after squandering a late five-point advantage, this lead wouldn't slip away.

The Wildcats clamped down hard and followed through on a strong all-around effort to advance to the Southern California title game with a 64-56 victory at Maranatha High.

“We had a lot of turnovers in the fourth quarter against West Valley — that's how we blew the lead,” said Wildcats' senior forward Justin Cook, in reference to a late six-point lead blown against eventual the Division III-A champion in the CIF Southern Section semifinal. “Today we just wanted to cut the turnovers down and we did a good job of that.”

No. 2-seed Renaissance was led by Cook with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

Anthony Stover added 13 points and was dominant defensively, recording a game-high 14 blocks, while Tremaine Tatum scored 13 points and pulled down eight boards.

All three made big contributions to the fourth-quarter stand, which began with a 9-0 Renaissance run over the first 3:30.

Tatum opened the fourth-quarter scoring with a third-attempt putback on a short jumper. Cook then found Stover inside for a turnaround jumper before scoring the next Wildcats basket himself on a cleanup of a Tatum miss. Cook gave Renaissance (26-3) its biggest lead of the night, 55-42, on a turnaround jumper at the 4:40 mark.

“Being in these tight games has helped us out and we're starting to get our feel,” Wildcats Coach Sid Cooke said. “They buckled down and just took their time.”

Immanuel (25-6) would make a final push, but a Tatum breakaway dunk directly following an Immanuel three-pointer put the Wildcats up by 10 with under a minute left.

The Wildcats held the Eagles to four-for-12 shooting from the floor in the fourth quarter and forced 14 turnovers on the game.

“I think our defense really did it for us this game,” Stover said. “Each player was running their hardest up and down the floor and we got it done.”

Thomas started the game, but left with an injury in the first quarter. According to Cooke, Thomas hyper-extended the knee on which he had surgery earlier this year.

Renaissance will meet No. 1-seed Price (31-3) on Saturday at Mater Dei at 3 p.m. in the Southern California final.

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