VALLEY GLEN — The stage was set for the Renaissance Academy boys' basketball team to knock off La Verne Lutheran, the No. 2 team in CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA.
The Trojans were without their dominant power forward Grant Jerrett, who injured his ankle Tuesday, and the Wildcats controlled the first half and were sitting pretty with a 15-point lead midway through the third quarter.
Then everything started to unravel for Renaissance, the top-ranked team in Division VI, as La Verne Lutheran started clicking and dominated the last 12 minutes of the game to pull off a 54-45 comeback victory at L.A. Valley College on Wednesday night.
"I told the kids, 'There's no point in me yelling now because the loss hurts you, especially when their big guy didn't play,'" Renaissance Coach Sid Cooke said.
La Verne Lutheran Coach Eric Cooper said he was proud of his team's resiliency to bounce back and win without it's primary offensive weapon.
"A lot of them are playing out of position now and it's a weird style of basketball because we're trying to run and we don't really do that because we got Grant," Cooper said. "Every time you go down the court you have to set up the big guy and now it's attack the basket."
The Wildcats (19-4) dominated the first half, taking a 24-16 lead into halftime and came out strong in the third quarter. They pushed their lead to 33-18 when Jessy Cantinol laid one in with 4:17 to go in the period.
The tide started to turn from there as La Verne Lutheran's Cameron Osorno (14 points) scored the next five points in the game to cut the lead to 33-23.
Two plays later the Trojans' McKay Anderson, a La Cañada Flintridge resident, started heating up after he dunked one home with 2:20 to go in the quarter. He scored the next seven points to cut his team's deficit to two points, 34-32, with 1:30 to go.
"Give it to them, they made the plays, knocked down shots and we lost our momentum," Cooke said.
Anderson, who finished with a game-high 17 points and six rebounds, tied the game at 36 a few plays later as he hit a jumper with 27 seconds left in the third.
"That might have been one of [Anderson's] top-two games, but he's been out for a month," Cooper said. "If he would have never gotten hurt, he'd be doing that on a normal basis — he's ready."
Anderson stayed hot in the fourth quarter as he hit another jumper right out the gate to give La Verne a 38-36 lead. It was the Trojans' first lead since Brian Beard, Jr. hit a running layup on the first play of the game to give La Verne Lutheran (18-5) a 2-0 advantage.
Both teams traded buckets on the next six possessions, as the Wildcats never trailed by more than one possession until La Verne Lutheran's Jay Miller nailed a corner three to give his team a 45-41 lead with 3:45 to go.
La Verne Lutheran pushed its lead to 49-41, as Miller scored game's the next two buckets off back-to-back Renaissance turnovers.
Cantinol cut the deficit to 49-45 with 2:20 to go on consecutive putback buckets.
The Wildcats would get no closer, though, as Cantinol, who finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, fouled out on the ensuing possession and Renaissance turned the ball over on its next trip up the floor.
Renaissance's Vince De Guzman finished with a team-high 14 points and three steals. Gerrick Uneau had six points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats.
Although the loss hurt, Cooke said in the grand scheme of things it's really just a learning tool to help his team prepare for the playoffs.
"We don't worry about it, it's a teaching tool," Cooke said. "There's no shame in [the loss], they're a veteran team. We have a chance to go to state and we haven't been there in a couple of years. State is really where I want to be."