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Renaissance finally reigns

Wildcats win program's first-ever CIF championship with resounding win over California Lutheran.

March 03, 2012|By Gabriel Rizk, gabriel.rizk@latimes.com

SANTA ANA — Apparently, even juggernauts get nervous.

A heavy favorite to capture the CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship before the playoffs even began, the Renaissance Academy boys' basketball team still wasn't immune to the jitters that come with the pressure of being one win away from the ultimate goal.

"We're not used to playing in front of big crowds," Wildcats senior guard Vince De Guzman said. "It was just a lot of nerves."

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In the end, it made for little more than a tight first quarter, though, as Renaissance had opened up a double-digit lead by halftime and closed the door for good in the first minutes of the fourth quarter.

Led by 19 points from Jessy Cantinol and 18 from De Guzman, the top-seeded Wildcats' decimation of Division 6 was completed on Saturday morning with a 67-45 win over third-seeded California Lutheran at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana. It's the first-ever CIF title for the program, which has been a playoff mainstay across multiple divisions for the better part of a decade and a three-time finalist from 2005-07, but never had been able to nail down the big one until now.

"It feels great after four years of being here expecting to get a championship," said Wildcats senior guard Troy Fontanilla (11 points).

For Renaissance Academy Coach Sid Cooke, it's been a considerably longer odyssey.

"It was hard, but I'm glad we got back," said Cooke, the architect of the program, who is in his 11th year. "Sometimes I thought we would never get back."

The first quarter saw the Wildcats (24-6), who had steamroller their playoff opposition by an average margin of 25 points en route to the title game, take a quick 4-0 lead but proceed to struggle offensively against the C-Hawks' zone defense. As shots rattled in and out and movement grew stagnant, Renaissance scored just three points over the next three and a half minutes and trailed, 7-6, after the C-Hawks' Ben Schober finished off a fast break started by a long rebound of a De Guzman miss from the outside. There would be a tie and three more lead changes before the Wildcats ended the quarter with a slim 13-10 lead.

"It was a slow start, a little jitters, but we just had to get back into playing our game," said Cooke, whose team is likely to receive a berth today when pairings are released for the CIF-State Division 5 tournament. "The guys got a little down, but I said, 'Just keep playing your game, keep doing what you've been doing all year.'"

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