For a young Eastside Prep boys basketball team to pull off an improbable upset over an experienced Pinewood squad in the CCS Division V semifinals, the underdog Panthers needed to play with a maturity beyond their years.
Therefore, it was only fitting at the most crucial junction of Wednesday night's game the ball was in the hands of the team's lone senior starter -- Daryl Carr.
With 20 seconds remaining and his team down one, Carr drove into the paint and sank a go-ahead layup, propelling No. 4-seeded Eastside Prep to a 60-59 upset over No. 1-seeded Pinewood at Santa Clara High.
The Panthers (15-11) earned a berth in Friday's title game against No. 3 Priory (13-8), a 74-55 winner over No. 2 St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic in the other semifinal. The West Bay Athletic League foes will meet at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont at 8 p.m.
"It was so great for him," Eastside Prep coach Chris Bischof said of Carr. "He'd been out with injuries so I'm just so happy for him to have that big moment at the end. He's worked so hard to this point."
"This is my last year, and I missed out on three years of basketball because of two injuries to my ACL," Carr added. "So, this game was all or nothing."
Carr, who led the team with 19 points, was not the only Eastside Prep player to make major contributions in the waning moments of the contest.
Joshua Walker-Ford drained a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the deficit to one with just over a minute left, and Isiah East, who scored 16 points, passed to Carr out of a double-team for the game-winning layup.
For Pinewood, its season ended abruptly after a regular-season WBAL championship, which included a stellar 12-2 record in league play.
Prior to Wednesday night's game, Eastside Prep had not beaten Pinewood since 2013, including two defeats earlier this season.
Pinewood was led offensively by senior Nathan Beak's 25 points and junior Matthew Peery's 14 points.
"Pinewood's so much fun to play because they are such a good team," Bischof said. "They play so well together that you have to come back with a real team effort as well."
In the early moments of the contest, it appeared Pinewood might run away with a victory, as Eastside Prep committed six turnovers on the first six possessions of the game, as Pinewood opened a 17-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
Eastside Prep was able to regain its composure after the inauspicious start, as they went on a 8-0 run to close out the quarter.
"It was hard because after every turnover a player would put their head down," Carr said of the early struggles. "As a team we just came closer and encouraged each other to keep our heads up and stay in it."
A driving layup from Carr gave Eastside Prep its first lead of the game late in the second quarter, but a short jumper from Ryan Knotts gave Pinewood a one-point advantage at the break.
Neither Panthers squad could gain any separation after halftime, as the teams combined for four ties and three lead changes in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Pinewood opened up a four point lead with under two minutes remaining, and had ample opportunities to extend their lead at the free-throw line. But, Pinewood missed three consecutive front-ends of one-and-ones, paving the way for Carr's late-game heroics.
On the final Pinewood possession of the game, Roshan Bal and Peery both had open looks at the rim, but their jumpers rimmed out, allowing Eastside Prep to advance.
"Our guys competed really hard the whole game and gave themselves a chance to win," Bischof said. "It's a great win for the guys, really proud of them."
As for what a trip to the championship game signifies for the future of the Eastside Prep program?
"It means we're back on the map," Carr said with a smile. "The last couple of years we've struggled (in the CCS) and now we made it to the championship."
This will be Eastside Prep's first title-game appearance since 2009. The Panthers won the section title that year, coincidently, topping Priory.
Eastside Prep and reigning champion Priory will meet again after Priory put on its own impressive display on Wednesday night.
A stellar defensive effort, combined with a 30- points night from senior Scotty Harris, lifted Priory to its big semifinal victory over St. Francis-CCC (20-7) in the first semifinal matchup of the night.
Priory employed a 2-3 zone defense that highlighted the Panthers' length and quickness. With 6-foot-9 Emmanuel Ajanaku and 6-foot-6 Ayo Aderoboye manning the backline of the zone, Priory forced 16 turnovers and held the Sharks to 33 percent shooting from the field.
"We like to play up-tempo and our zone allows that," Priory head coach David Moseley said. "When you make it a fast-tempo game kids get tired."
Harris' six 3-pointers led a stellar Priory outside shooting attack that drained 13 triples overall.
Saint Francis-CCC found most of its offense at the charity stripe, attempting 28 free-throws in the game. Chase Watkins led the Sharks with 17 points and six made free throws.
Priory controlled the game from the tip, as 10 early points from Harris had the Panthers leading by 12 after one quarter.
Junior Zach Weiss took over the game in the second quarter, knocking down four three-pointers, including a corner jumper right before the buzzer to give Priory a 39-19 lead at halftime.
Although Priory committed 17 turnovers in the second half, its lead was never threatened, thanks to a 16-point performance from their bench.
"It's a cliche, but I've been telling our guys whether you play two minutes or 15 minutes be ready, Moseley said. "We had guys come off the bench and hit shots that didn't allow them to get back in the game."
Priory will look to capture its second consecutive CCS Division V crown, and Harris said the team's experience winning last season should benefit the Panthers.
"It helps that we've been to the finals before," Harris said. "We know that feeling going into the game. We still got to work hard and get the win."
Division I girls
Palo Alto is back in its first title game since 2012 and will be seeking its first crown since 2011 following a 62-28 romp over No. 5 Piedmont Hills (16-11) at Wilcox High.
The top-seeded Vikings (18-7) will play No. 3 North Salinas (23-3) in the section finale on Saturday (2 p.m.) at Kaiser-Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz. North Salinas eliminated No. 2 Silver Creek, 52-36, in the other semifinal.
Senior Alexis Harris led the Vikings with 18 points with junior Maya Lahti and sophomore Carly Leong adding 12 points each.
"The team executed the defensive game plan," said Paly coach Scott Peters, whose teams allowed just 10 points in the first half as the Vikings built a 39-10 lead. "Made it hard for Piedmont Hills to get uncontested shots, and we held their high scorer to zero first-half points."
Skylar Burris, Julie Chandler and Lahti rotated shifts covering the Pirates' leading scorer full court while the 6-foot-2 Harris was a force in the low-post area both on offense and defense.
Division V girls
Top-seeded Eastside Prep and No. 2 seed Priory will meet for the section crown on Friday at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont at 6 p.m.
Eastside Prep (15-11) advanced with a 71-38 romp over No. 4 R.L. Stevenson (21-4) and Priory reached its fist-ever section title game following a 67-44 victory over No. 3 St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic at Del Mar High in San Jose.
Freshman Zion Gabriel, who had an outstanding season in cross country during the fall, arguably had her best hoop outing with a game-high 27 points. Alayah Bell added 14 points, nine coming in the first quarter when the Panthers raced to a 25-8 lead while setting the tone for the game.
Sophomore Kayla Tahaafe produced seven points with 13 rebounds for Eastside Prep, which played in the Division V state finals last season -- losing by just two points to La Jolla Country Day.
In the other semifinal, sophomore Tatiana Reese poured in 30 points, had 12 steals and grabbed seven rebounds to pace Priory. Freshman Ila Lane added 16 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks and freshman Gabby Ruiz finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.