PASADENA — All season long, the Renaissance Academy boys' basketball team has leaned on the play of its starters.
It was the Wildcats' bench that picked up the slack and delivered 35 points in a 79-51 victory over Vincent Memorial High Tuesday in the first round of the Southern California Regional of the CIF State Division V Championships at Pasadena City College's Hutto-Patterson Gym.
"Our starters didn't come out ready, they were anxious, and for the first time our bench really stepped up," Renaissance Academy Coach Sid Cooke said. "I am glad we got some production from them."
Renaissance (25-6) may have had its biggest scare of the postseason as it didn't put the Scots away until the fourth quarter.
The Scots (22-7) never held a lead, but forced two ties in the first half.
Vincent Memorial was able to hang around because the Wildcats struggled so mightily offensively in the first half. They only had one three-pointer in the first 16 minutes and were 45% (10-22) from the free-throw line in the opening half.
"We got a little lucky tonight," Cooke said. "I think these guys are so anxious to keep winning that instead of just playing they're worried about winning. They just got to settle down. I think once we settle down we're OK."
It was Rick Hilaire, who hadn't played much this season due to injury, that helped calm the Wildcats' nerves off the bench with 14 points, five steals, four rebounds, a block and two momentum-swinging slam dunks.
"I was a little frustrated in the final because I didn't play a lot," Hilaire said, "but I had to step up and help my teammates to victory."
Renaissance reserves Kevin Dinges (eight points, five rebounds) and Marquise Mosley (seven points) also made their presence felt.
"I don't think we played well, but the subs gave us some energy and really picked it up for us," Cooke said.
The Wildcats used a five-point run to finish the first quarter and take a 13-8 lead into the second. They widened the advantage to 19-10 about three minutes into the stanza, but the Scots rebounded with a 9-0 run of their own — thanks to seven points from Willie Zepeda, who finished with 21 — to even it back up with 3:26 to go in the half.
Renaissance's Jessy Cantinol, who had 14 of his team-high 17 points in the first half, answered the call and stopped the run with a short jumper he hit off a spin move from the post.
It was Hilaire who ensured the Wildcats finished the half strong. He gave Renaissance a 27-19 lead with a back-to-back buckets, capped off with a dunk that came after he forced a steal at half court.
Hilaire's biggest field goal was a buzzer-beating three he hoisted up about five feet behind the three-point line to widen the Wildcats' advantage to 31-22.
Renaissance's Vincent De Guzman struggled in the first half, but nailed two big threes in the third quarter before finishing with 15 points and six boards.
De Guzman's first three came off an inbound play a minute and 20 seconds into the second half, increasing the Wildcats' lead to 34-24.
Hilaire nailed another three 40 seconds later and a Mosley layup, off a De Guzman steal on the ensuing possession, pushed Renaissance's lead to 15 at 39-24.
The Scots didn't let the Wildcats run away with it, though, cutting the deficit to 47-35 on a three-pointer from Richie Murillo, who finished with a game-high 24 points.
It wouldn't get any closer, though, as two De Guzman free throws pushed the lead out to 20, 59-39, with 6:39 remaining.