Mission Viejo pushed hard, but stays unbeaten
PALM DESERT – Second-ranked Mission Viejo kept its perfect season intact as it defeated Rancho Cucamonga, 77-67, Friday at College of the Desert behind 24 points and 10 rebounds from Evan Zeller and 20 points from Max Redfield.
With the victory on the final day of pool play in the Quixscore Division of the MaxPreps Invitational, the Diablos advance to Saturday's final against La Costa Canyon of San Diego at 2:30 p.m. at Palm Desert High.
While Mission Viejo coach Troy Roelen said he isn't sure this was his team's toughest test to date, referencing the Diablos' 67-59 victory over JSerra, he said he feels fortunate to come out with a victory.
"They (Rancho Cucamonga) shot the heck out of the ball," he said. "I don't know if that's normal for them, but we think they shot upwards of 60 percent."
The Cougars (12-3) used an up-tempo attack that focused on driving at Zeller, who was forced to the bench at the 2:04 mark of the opening period with two fouls.
Mission Viejo (14-0) held tough with its star out of the game, as it trailed 19-17 heading into the second quarter.
With Zeller back on the floor, the Diablos outscored Rancho Cucamonga 15-6 in the second quarter, giving them a seven-point cushion at the break.
Mission Viejo opened the third with a 9-4 run, helping extend its lead to a game-high 11 points minutes into the quarter.
Cougars star Malcolm Drumwright (26 points) answered the Diablos' run with one of his own, as he connected on 11 consecutive points to bring Rancho Cucamonga back within three.
Mission Viejo headed into the fourth quarter nursing a 53-50 lead.
Zeller took control in the final period, scoring eight points, including a dunk off a back-door cut late in the period, to help ensure the Diablos' victory.
"I slid (Evan) back to the point guard spot (in the second half)," Roelen said. "And all of a sudden, things seemed to flow."
Roelen said his team is always ready for a tough game.
"We have an older, experienced group and I told them that we've been through wars before," he said. "If it's going to get like that, we have to keep our composure."