LOS ANGELES — After winning the CIF Southern Section Division VI championship last season, the Renaissance Academy boys' basketball team was rewarded by moving to a higher division.
However, instead of moving up the standard one division higher, the Wildcats were bumped up two to Division IV-A.
In a first-round game Wednesday against visiting Crean Lutheran of Irvine, the Wildcats started the contest a little tentatively in the opening quarter. However, Renaissance flexed its muscle in the second, going on a huge run to open the stanza and was able to cruise to a 73-32 victory at Ribet Academy.
The win puts the No. 6 Wildcats (16-9) into a second-round game scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at a site to be determined. Renaissance Academy will face the winner of No. 7 Campbell Hall and Bishop Union.
“We have to get ready to play Campbell Hall, if they win,” said Renaissance Coach Sid Cooke, whose team won its first-ever CIF championship last season. “We have to shoot better and there are some definite things we need to work on. But it’s a work in progress and we’re getting better.”
The Wildcats have been able to thrive this season despite dealing with a wrath of problems. Not only did the team graduate key players from last season, but other standouts transferred to other schools and the team has been hit with a rash of injuries.
But the team has persevered, as it finished second in the Harbor League behind traditional powerhouse Price.
In the wake of the setbacks, it was important for the Wildcats to come out and have a solid showing in the opening round of the playoffs.
“That was really important for us,” said Renaissance sophomore Clark Thomas, who poured in a game-high 17 points. “I think we have a lot to prove after winning it all last year. There are a lot of people who think that we really didn’t deserve to move up this year, but I think we deserve it and we showed that tonight.”
The blow-out game was beneficial to Cooke, who was able to give all of his 10 players significant playing time.
“You never know when you might need one of those guys down the line in the playoffs,” he said.
The Wildcats came out of the gate and instantly dictated the tempo against the obviously overmatched Saints (7-16), who reached the playoffs as an at-large squad out of the Academy League. Renaissance began the contest on an 11-0 run and upped its lead to 15, 21-6, on a basket by Thomas with 2:12 remaining.
Crean Lutheran was able to cut into the lead and the Wildcats had a 10-point advantage, 24-14, after one quarter.
But the Wildcats defense tightened in the second and forced the Saints to take the majority of their shots from the outside.
The Renaissance offense also caught fire in the second, beginning the stanza on a seemingly backbreaking 19-0 run to surge out to a 29-point lead, 43-14, at the 4:34 mark.
The Saints didn’t help their own cause in the second, missing all 11 of their shots from the field. Being outscored, 23-5, all five of Crean Lutheran’s points came on free throws.
With the boost in the second, the Wildcats went into halftime with a comfortable 47-19 lead.
“This is a young team, so it took them a little time to get going,” Cooke said. “I think we needed a game like this because we’re not mentally where we should be, and we have to be mentally right for the playoffs.”
It was more of the same in the third, with the Wildcats ending the frame leading, 65-25.
The fourth quarter was played with a running clock.
Alex Dargenton added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats and KJ Okmanas had 12 points, including three three-pointers.