In three previous trips to the Central Coast Section Division V championship game, the Pinewood boys had won by an average of more than 18 points a game.
The Panthers' fourth straight title on Friday night was the closest yet. In fact, it was the closest margin of victory in a CCS finale in program history as Pinewood held off Priory, 47-46, on a free throw by Kyle Murphy with just 0.3 left on the clock at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.
Top-seeded Pinewood improved its record to 23-4 overall while No. 2 Priory dropped to 16-10. Last time these teams matched up, in the West Bay Athletic League, Pinewood won by two points in overtime. The Panthers are now 3-0 against Priory this year.
"Four CCS championships in a row," said Pinewood head coach Mani Messy. "If you look at the history, not too many teams have been able to do this.'
In fact, only Eastside Prep in Division V (2002-05), Mitty in Division II (2010-13) and Sacred Heart Cathedral (2009-12) had won four straight CCS titles prior to this season. Mitty won its fifth straight on Friday night while defeating Serra in the Open Division finale.
"There was a lot of hard work and a lot of hours these guys logged in and to be rewarded this way -- it means a lot," Messy said.
With the game tied at 46, Murphy received a length-of-the court inbound pass from Greg Naumann with 2.4 seconds to play, then drove to the hoop before drawing the foul. The sophomore sank the first shot to seal the win.
"I had confidence from the last couple free throws I made," said Murphy. "When it went in, I was just so happy, it's hard to describe."
"That's not the first time he's been in that moment," Messy said. "He's knocked down some big shots before and he knows exactly what to do."
Pinewood opened up the game in dominate fashion, going on an 18-4 lead to start the first quarter. Sophomore Aidan Lucero ended the quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Priory committed nine turnovers in the first quarter.
With three seconds left in the first half, Pinewood sophomore Jordan Riches nailed a long-range 3-pointer to put Pinewood up 28-15 going into halftime.
Priory's 6-foot-6 Andy Isokpehi led a 13-7 run in the third quarter and trimmed the Pinewood lead to 35-28 going into the fourth quarter. The junior finished with a game-high 18 points including two slam dunks.
With only 13.6 left to go, Murphy gave Pinewood the 46-43 lead after sinking two free throws. On Priory's next possession, the Panthers found senior Will Latta for a wide-open 3-pointer, tying the game at 46 with 2.2 left in the game.
"We've been in these situations plenty of times during the season," said Messy. "It was just yet another game we had to go through it. We made the right plays at the end. I can't help but be proud."
"Words can't explain it," said Pinewood junior Ryan Brice, who had the game-winning basket in the previous win over Priory. "One of my goals was to win four and I've got three now -- I'm going for the fourth next year."
Pinewood now has won seven CCS titles in Division V and have appeared in the finals 10 times. Next up will be the CIF NorCal playoffs this week.
"I thought our team was resilient against a very tough opponent that gave us everything they could," Messy said. "They definitely made us better as we start to prep for NorCal. Winning CCS is a huge accomplishment, but our guys aren't satisfied -- so much more basketball ahead of us and more great moments to create."