The Riordan Crusaders will need help in order to win their first outright West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) title since 2002.
They could have clinched a share of the crown on Tuesday night and positioned themselves to win the outright title at home on Friday, but shot just 36.6% from the field in a 43-37 road loss to the Mitty Monarchs.
“We just couldn’t buy a bucket,” head coach Joey Curtin said. “They were very physical on defense. ”
Riordan (17-5, 10-2 WCAL) and Mitty (18-4, 10-2) now sit tied atop the league standings with two games remaining. The teams split a pair of head-to-head meetings, with the Crusaders winning at home on Jan. 17.
Tuesday marked Riordan’s lowest scoring output of the season, and it was the Crusaders’ lowest mark in a WCAL game since Feb. 2, 2016, a full season before Curtin took over. They never led and made just two 3-pointers.
And yet, the Crusaders went to the fourth quarter down by just three. They closed the first half on a 9-3 run to go into the break down 24-18, and they scored the final six points of the third quarter to trim the Monarch lead to 33-30.
Then, they went scoreless for nearly five minutes. Gavin Ripp scored the first six points of the final term, the Crusaders missed five straight shots and they found themselves in a 39-30 hole before Jasir Rencher sank a 3-pointer with 3:06 left.
“There was a lot of grabbing, a lot of physicality with the ball handler that you don’t see that much anymore,” Curtin said. “The way the game was officiated, that’s how it’s gonna be. It’s an old school WCAL type of game. You’ve got to be tough to grind out those battles.”
Achilles Woodson, who scored a game-high 14 points in the losing effort, scored on a drive with 48.5 seconds remaining to get Riordan within four, but Ripp made two free throws with 28.3 remaining after a pair of Crusader fouls and Princeton commit Derek Sangster sank a pair with 17.6 left to put the game out of reach.
Close wins over the Crusaders aren’t new for Mitty, especially at home, but the nature of Tuesday’s game was entirely different. Rather than needing to hit late 3-pointers to overcome a deficit, Mitty led the entire way, save for when the game was tied at 3 after an early Nathan Tshamala 3-pointer.
While Riordan held Sangster to nine points, Ripp scored 10, all in the second half, and gathered a game-high 16 rebounds. Until Sangster’s two free throws, Ripp scored every Mitty point in the final quarter.
“He was much more physical today than he was in the first game,” Curtin said of Ripp. “He was a good presence for them in the middle, and if there’s gonna be a team where that’s a problem for us, it’s gonna be Mitty.”
Jaiden Paran led the Monarchs with 11 points, all in the first half. His third and final 3-pointer put the hosts up 21-9 before a Curtin timeout midway through the second quarter. While he had minimal help in the backcourt when the teams first met, he was accompanied by Nathan Noronha and Tyler Jones this time. Noronha had missed the first meeting with an illness, while Jones was sidelined by an ankle injury.
“They handle the ball a lot better when Jones is out there,” Curtin said. “When you have a guy of his caliber that can take the pressure off, someone like him who’s strong and athletic and has good handles, it helps them limit their turnovers.”
Jones finished with five points, while Noronha scored eight.
Rencher finished with nine points and eight rebounds for the Crusaders, but couldn’t finish a key transition layup midway through the third with his team trailing by seven. Mitty stretched the lead to 29-20 at the other end on a Noronha putback.
The Monarchs had 16 offensive rebounds in all, including 12 in the first half. They outscored Riordan 10-6 on second chance points, and the last two of those points for the Crusaders came on a Rencher putback in the final seconds.
“We came out with force,” said Ripp, who had seven of his 16 rebounds on the offensive end. “Last time, we were a little fazed by all the dunks.”
After the Crusaders threw down nine dunks in the Jan. 17 contest, they were limited to just two slams in Tuesday’s rematch, both in the second quarter. Christian Wise threw one down three minutes into the second quarter, and Woodson fed Wise for a one-handed alley-oop late in the second quarter that had the Mitty student section buzzing for the next minute.
For the Crusaders to win an outright league crown, they’ll need at least one loss from Mitty. The Monarchs visit St. Ignatius (13-9, 7-5) on Friday and host Valley Christian (7-15, 2-10) next Tuesday. Riordan hosts Bellarmine (9-12, 4-8) on Friday and concludes the regular season at Sacred Heart Cathedral (12-10, 6-6) on Tuesday.
There’s also a possibility the two sides meet again in the Central Coast Section (CCS) Open Division Championship Game. The two are expected to receive the top two seeds at next Wednesday’s seeding meeting. They’ve met in the last two championship games; Mitty won in 2021, while Riordan took home the title last year. This year’s championship is scheduled for Feb. 24 at Santa Clara University.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]