Cantinol plays big in Wildcats' first title win

SANTA ANA — Both the Renaissance Academy and California Lutheran boys' basketball teams looked to their stars to deliver a CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship.

The two stars collided as Renaissance forward Jessy Cantinol and California Lutheran center Ryan Smith squared off at Mater Dei High Saturday morning with a championship on the line.

Only one star was still shining when all was said and done, though, as Cantinol got the best of Smith, scoring a game-high 19 points and pulling down a team-high nine rebounds.

Smith, on the other hand, had 13 points and 13 rebounds after being held to four points in the first half.

Perhaps most telling, though, was Cantinol put up his impressive numbers without playing the final three-and-a-half minutes, as Wildcats Coach Sid Cooke pulled his starters — with his team up 25 — en route to a 67-45 victory.

The performance cemented Cantinol in Renaissance Academy history, as he brought the Wildcats their first championship in his senior year after leading them his whole career.

"It feels like we've done something good for the area in our last year," said Cantinol, who also tied for game-highs in assists (four) and steals (three). "This is what we worked for in practice everyday."

Cantinol made his presence felt down low Saturday, cashing in putbacks, driving in for layups and using a series of post moves to weave around multiple defenders and find easy buckets.

Smith had trouble containing the powerful Cantinol on his own despite a three-inch height advantage. The junior picked up his second foul 34 seconds into the second quarter, putting him on the bench the rest of the quarter and giving Cantinol a greater advantage the rest of the way.

"I wanted to make him foul," Cantinol said. "When he had two fouls he couldn't stop me so it started coming easy."

The Wildcats struggled early offensively against Cal Lutheran's zone defense and Cantinol was key in cutting through the zone and getting his team out to an early lead.

Cantinol scored five of Renaissance's first seven points and gave his team a 12-point lead, 25-13, with 2:20 left in the first half after hitting an easy layup and one of two free throws.

"We rushed some shots early, three-pointers and didn't knock them down so we said, 'Lets' just go [inside]' and Jessy responded," Cooke said. "We told him to turn and attack the big guy and get him in foul trouble."

It was C-Hawks Coach Dave Peter's worst nightmare.

"We wanted to do our best to keep Ryan, our center, out of foul trouble and [Cantinol] is a good player, so we didn't want to go one-on-one type of basketball," Peter said.

Renaissance took a 37-22 advantage about a minute-and-half into the third quarter as Cantinol spun around Smith out of the post for an uncontested layup.

It all seemed to come easy for the Wildcats standout.

When asked if he was surprised with how easy his baskets came, Cantinol's answer was simple.

"Not really," he said. "I just try to be confident and lead my team."

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