In front of a packed gymnasium in Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep, the No. 2 seed in the Central Coast Section Open Division playoffs, fell 60-58 in overtime to third-seeded Riordan of San Francisco on Wednesday.
The Gators (23-4) will find out Sunday where they are placed in the upcoming NorCal playoffs.
Riordan and Mitty meet for the CCS title Friday at the Kaiser Center in Santa Cruz. Tipoff is 8 p.m.
Since SHP defeated Bellarmine and St. Francis, two teams from the powerful West Catholic Athletic League, in its first two CCS games, Gators coach Tony Martinelli deduced a Division I berth.
Had SHP gotten by the Crusaders (19-8), the Gators would have been the first non-WCAL team to reach the final of the Open Division, which was first contested in 2013.
The game was a seesaw affair, with neither team deserving to lose. It came down to Riordan outscoring SHP 8-6 in the overtime period.
"It shows the heart of this team," Martinelli said. "They got down, but they kept coming back. It was a one-possession game both ways, back and forth. Riordan hit some big shots and so did we. We were toe-to-toe with them and just didn't get it done."
"Sacred Heart Prep made some great plays," Riordan coach Joey Curtin said. "They are tough. You can tell they are very comfortable here. They have some very talented players. If we weren't peaking and playing so well going into this game, we would have, for sure, lost."
The game within the game was the brilliant performances of SHP senior guard Aidan Braccia and Riordan junior guard King-njhsanni Wilhite, who totaled 24 points. Braccia had a game-high 26 points, netting seven 3-pointers and making 6 of 7 free throws. Braccia had a chance to tie the game in OT but had the second of two free throw attempts rim off.
"A couple of days ago (in practice), Aidan hit 39 free throws in a row,” Martnelli said. “Missing that free throw won't define his career. He has hit a lot of big shots.”
Braccia hit two improbable 3-pointers in the first half, throwing up an off-balance shot from 28 feet with the shot clock winding down. Extra arc helped guide the ball down the cylinder.
A few minutes later, with the second quarter ticking down, Braccia nailed a deep trey as the Gators charged into the locker room leading 34-30.
Riordan hit the glass hard to begin the second half, helping the Crusaders edge ahead, 37-36. Four 3-point goals by Braccia steadied the Gators, who still led by four entering the fourth quarter.
Wilhite, averaging 28 points per game coming in, scored on a drive, drawing the foul to start the final frame, closing the gap to a point. From then on, points were at a premium.
SHP had just four points in the period, a bucket by Emmer Nichols and a pair of free throws by Braccia.
Nichols had a pair of free throws in OT, while Sam Norris scored three of his 12 points. Norris had a spectacular game, battling hard on the boards, during a 9-point second quarter.
SHP guard Sachit Sinha, a senior, had 7 points to go with a handful of slick assists. Guard Kevin Carney played stingy defense, while swingman Jake York came off the bench in the first period to score five big points, including a sweet three from the left corner.
"You have to hand it to Riordan” Nichols said. "They beat us on the glass in the second half, got some big rebounds. They did a great job defending me. We got sloppy in the fourth quarter. We rushed through possessions and took some bad shots. It was a tough one to lose. I hope everyone enjoyed the game. I did, up until the end."
Martinelli said his club will bounce back from the bitter defeat.
"Their goals have been extremely high all year long," Martinelli said. "They wanted to win the Open Division, to get a good NorCal seed and, possibly, play some home games. We had some quality wins. We should be ranked pretty high."