Crespi's Christian Johnson, left, Justin Rubia, center, and Michael… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
If early results are any indication, who comes out ahead in the Mission League will be another fight to the finish this season.
Michael Avery scored 18 points and London Perrantes added 17 as defending champion Encino Crespi won the San Fernando Valley Invitational championship with a 64-59 victory over Mission Hills Alemany on Wednesday night at Granada Hills High. It was the second tournament victory in a row for Crespi.
In a rematch of the final last year between Mission league rivals, neither side led by double digits until deep into the fourth quarter, as might be expected in a matchup of teams in The Times' top 25.
"We didn't run or press nearly as much last year because we weren't as athletic," said Perrantes, a junior point guard who was selected most valuable player of the tournament after averaging 14.2 points per game.
"It's my job to be the coach on the floor. I didn't do that in the first half. We were taking too many threes, but in the second half we made a conscious effort to get the ball in the paint."
Crespi raced to a 7-2 lead in the first four minutes, but the Warriors took a 13-12 lead on a three-point shot from the left corner by Marqueze Coleman in the final seconds of the first quarter. Jerico Richardson's fast-break layup increased Alemany's lead to 19-12 with 6 minutes 34 seconds left in the second quarter.
The No. 11 Celts (10-0) pulled to within 24-21 on Justin Rubio's three-point play with 23 seconds left in the second quarter, and neither team scored for the remainder of the first half.
"We really didn't do anything differently in the second half, we just played hard on defense," said Avery, who joined Perrantes on the all-tournament team along with Michael Milligan Jr., who finished with seven points. "Individual honors are secondary. I play for my team."
Crespi took its first lead of the second half, 29-28, on Avery's reverse layup, He added a three-pointer from the right corner on the Celts' next possession, increasing the lead to four points. Coleman's second transition dunk cut Crespi's lead to 37-35 with five seconds left in the third quarter, but Avery answered with a three-point play that gave the Celts a 40-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Richardson opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, but Perrantes answered with one that gave Crespi a 45-39 lead with 6:49 left in the game. Carter Gallo's corner three-pointer gave the Celts their largest lead, 52-42, at the 4:22 mark of the fourth quarter.
A three-pointer by Brandon Boyd, a pair of free throws by Coleman and another three-pointer by Bear Henderson pulled No. 9 Alemany to within 58-54 with 1:28 remaining. Crespi couldn't convert a three-on-one fast-break and Coleman was fouled on a drive, making one of two shots to cut the Warriors' deficit to 58-55 with 36 seconds left. Avery was fouled intentionally and made both shots, giving Crespi a 60-55 lead with 24.2 seconds left. He sank four more free throws to clinch the win, finishing seven for seven from the free throw line — all in the second half.
"That's what I live for... I want to win so bad," Avery said of his clutch free throws.
Gallo had 12 points and Rubio added nine for Crespi. Leading the way for the No. 9 Warriors were all-tournament picks Coleman, who had 20 points, and Max Guercy, who scored eight. Richardson finished with 13 points while Henderson and Boyd each added nine for Alemany (7-2), which suffered its second consecutive finals loss to a league opponent.
"I like the personal accolades, but mostly it feels great to be 10-0," Perrantes said. "We have high goals — winning league, winning CIF and winning state — but we can't get too far ahead of ourselves."
The Warriors fell to No. 2 Los Angeles Loyola, 82-69, in the Santa Monica tournament championship game Dec. 10, the same day Crespi defeated host Canyon Country Canyon, 57-40, to win the Canyon Classic.
"I'd rather not play a [league] team three times in one season; I'd rather us beat up on some other leagues, but that's the way it worked out," Alemany Coach Tray Meeks said. "I'm proud of my guys. We battled hard all week and we were in this the whole way. A couple of shots here or there and it's a different game."
Morningside beat Ribet Academy 75-49 in the third place game Wednesday afternoon while Burbank beat No. 22 Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (8-3) in the fifth-place game. Notre Dame finished fifth in the Mission League last season. Studio City Harvard-Westlake (5-3), which tied Loyola for first place in league last winter, dropped out of The Times' rankings this week.
Crespi finished third in the Mission League last season, winning two of three games against Alemany, including a 78-53 victory in the final of the San Fernando Valley Invitational. Crespi lost by one basket to Inglewood in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3A playoffs while Alemany finished fourth in league and lost to Los Angeles Windward in the semifinals of the Division 4AA playoffs.