The Monte Vista High boys basketball team wasn't going to let a last-second 3-pointer by Freedom derail its historic season. Now the goal the Mustangs set out for themselves at the start of the year is just four quarters away.
Monte Vista staved off Freedom 59-51 in overtime March 22 afternoon at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento to clinch the program's first CIF Division I Northern Regional championship, and the Mustangs will vie for their first state championship against Centennial-Corona at 8 p.m. on March 28 at Sleep Train Arena.
Upset-minded Freedom, the No. 3 seed, stunned the top-seeded Mustangs on Elliott Smith's remarkable banked-in 3-pointer at the final buzzer in regulation to tie it 49-49. But Monte Vista, after spotting the Falcons a field goal in overtime, went on a cold-blooded 10-0 run to close it out.
Monte Vista (31-1), which beat Freedom handily two times previous this season, including 57-41 in the North Coast Section Division I championship game, expected and received a more physical challenge this time. The Falcons outrebounded Monte Vista 41-28 after being dominated inside in the previous two matchups.
Smith, a 6-foot-6 senior who had a huge postseason, led the Falcons (26-7) with 14 rebounds to go with his game-high 19 points.
It was up to Monte Vista to respond to a rare test, which it did.
"Today was by far the most adverse situation we've been in in our careers, especially the senior five starters," said Mustangs 6-9 center Spencer Rust, who had nine rebounds and four blocked shots and came up big in overtime.
"It was tough, especially when Elliott hit that three. We were demoralized. We came together, got in the huddle and just looked at each other and said, 'We're a family.' We've been thinking about this moment for eight years. Nothing could stand in our way."
In overtime, after Freedom's Rodney Pope scored on a bank shot, Grant Jackson's jumper tied it at 51-51. Trevor John converted both ends of a 1-and-1 to put Monte Vista ahead to stay. The Mustangs tied up Smith inside on the Falcons' next possession to get the ball back. Jackson, who led the Mustangs with 15 points, made a clutch 3-pointer, and Brendan Pedley's 3-pointer sealed the deal.
On his unlikely 3-pointer at the end of regulation, Smith side-stepped Pedley, who was guarding him tightly, and banked the shot in off the glass. The big shot followed a 3-pointer by Monte Vista's Trevor John with 1:16 left to break a 46-46 tie in the defensive battle. Smith also made the winning shot to beat Rodriguez-Fairfield 78-76 in the second round of NorCals.
For Monte Vista coach Nick Jones, Smith's shot brought bad memories from opponents make game-tying 3-pointers in the past.
"I don't think we could have played better defense on that possession," Jones said. "He made a tough shot. Hat's off to him. Luckily, we answered in overtime, but, yeah, he made a tough shot."
During a defensive-minded first half, the Mustangs opened up a 20-12 lead on Pedley 3-pointer with 2:55 left, but Freedom responded with an 8-5 surge to the buzzer. Nathan Mallet's 3-pointer with 30 seconds left cut the deficit to 30-25. Rishi Satoor had eight points for the Mustangs in the first half, and Smith and Rodney Pope, MVP of the Bay Valley Athletic League, both had six to pace the Falcons.
Pope (12 points) warmed up from the outside as the half unfolded, draining a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 16-12 in the first quarter.
The Mustangs went on a 5-0 spurt to close the first quarter with a 12-7 lead as Spencer Rust scored on a nice look inside from Jackson, and Pedley converted a three-point play with 33 seconds left.