PASADENA â€” 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.
â€œWe had a lot of turnovers in the fourth quarter against West Valley â€” that's how we blew the lead,â€ 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. â€œToday we just wanted to cut the turnovers down and we did a good job of that.â€
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.
â€œBeing in these tight games has helped us out and we're starting to get our feel,â€ Wildcats Coach Sid Cooke said. â€œThey buckled down and just took their time.â€
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.
â€œI think our defense really did it for us this game,â€ Stover said. â€œEach player was running their hardest up and down the floor and we got it done.â€
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.