Popes lead Falcon cagers over Mission Bay in CIF semis; Go for championship Saturday
Mission Bay senior Rejean “Boogie” Ellis scored 33 points Wednesday night but this time it was not enough as host Torrey Pines used a gritty team performance to eliminate the defending champions, 81-70, in the CIF Open Division boys’ basketball semi-finals. Torrey Pines, seeded third coming in, was led by its own offensive virtuosos, identical twins Bryce and Michael Pope. The duo racked up 30 and 24 points respectively and combined for 25 of the Falcons 29 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
These same two teams collided in last year’s Open semi-final, also at Torrey Pines, with Mission Bay prevailing, 64-62, behind 34 points from Ellis. The Falcons were definitely targeting the opportunity for payback and so was a packed house.
“This was pretty special,” said Bryce Pope, who also had eight rebounds and three assists. “Obviously, this was a chance for a rematch and it is the game we wanted to play—it feels great to pull it out.”
The victory sends Torrey Pines (22-6) into Saturday night’s championship game at UC San Diego’s RIMAC Arena against No. 1 Foothills Christian (22-5), a 68-59 winner over Vista in the other half of the bracket. Olive & Co. have been to each of the five previous Open tournaments, finishing second twice. Foothills Christian captured the section title in 2016 and lost to Mission Bay in last year’s finals. Wednesday night they showed they were primed to go after a banner of their own.
“We won tonight because we got back in transition much better, controlled the backboards and allowed very few second shots,” analyzed Olive afterward. “By-and-large, we got high quality shots and have very few live ball turnovers.”
The showdown was nip-and-tuck most of the way. The Buccaneers were up by four after the first eight minutes but the Falcons went into halftime with a 35-33 advantage. The Falcons came out of the break hard, scoring eight of the first 10 points, and looked like they might be ready to put the visitors away. The Bucs weren’t going anywhere though and a bucket by Ellis, sandwiched between a pair of treys by Andre Scott (he had five 3s and 19 pts. on the night) knotted things up at 43. Two free throws by Ellis gave Mission Bay its first second half lead, 49-48, with less than a minute left in the third but junior Brandon Angel sank four late free throws, the final two with 1.3 seconds on the clock, to put Torrey Pines up by three entering the final quarter.
That closing segment belonged to the Falcons. Olive’s club pushed its lead to seven with just under four minutes and Ellis signaled to his teammates to feed him the ball. He promptly nailed a three but Torrey refused to fold. Timely shooting, great clock management and extraordinary free throw shooting (the Popes converted a joint 15-of-16 down the stretch) kept Mission at bay—and when Ellis fouled out with 1:08 remaining and his team down 11, the home side started celebrating.
“The key in the fourth quarter was finding the open man, making the extra pass,” said Olive. “Bryce hit a big three, Michael hit a big three—both were the result of making extra passes.
“And the foul shooting, well we’ve shot free throws like that all season. It’s wonderful to have a team that can shoot from the line like that. That’s how we like to end games with the lead—get to the line and knock down foul shots.” Senior Noah Viera chipped in with 13 points for Torrey Pines and Angel recorded a double double with 10 markers and 11 boards.
Despite his 33 points, it never felt like Ellis was running wild or unstoppable, although he did get to the line 17 times, sinking 15. Bryce Pope was pumped up going into the contest and still a bit amped following the game, which saw him manned up on Ellis at the outset.
“It’s always cool to play against a guy of that high caliber, like Boogie, and compete with him—he’s a great guy,” said Pope of the Duke recruit. “We were originally going to double him but went straight man and loaded up with help.
“When I got in a little foul trouble, Ryan (Brown) took over. He got 33 but we got the win and that’s all that matters.”
Olive was pleased with what he saw out of his charges against Mission Bay but knows they’ve got another tough hurdle to clear Saturday. “It’s going to take at least this type of effort against Foothills Christian,” he said of a team that defeated the Falcons, 90-89, in a double overtime thriller three days before Christmas. “They’re very athletic, have a number of shooters and scorers and are an excellent offensive rebounding team.
Another “rematch” for the senior-heavy Falcons. “I’m excited, I know everyone on the team is excited,” said Bryce Pope. “We know they’re talented and have a lot of weapons—I think we’ll be up to the challenge.”
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