ANAHEIM -- Somewhere, somehow, someway, Paul Pierce is smiling.
His alma mater, Inglewood, entered Saturday's Southern Section Division 2AA final in search of its first title since 1994, back when Pierce was a promising prospect and running the show in the Southland.
Turns out, the Sentinels would not be denied. One of the program's most prestigious alums, Pierce, would have been proud of the effort. After trailing for a majority of the game against Simi Valley Royal, Inglewood took the lead in the fourth quarter and made the advantage hold up en route to a 60-57 victory at Anaheim Convention Center Arena.
"I don't really want to talk about 1994, this 2012 and I'm proud, thankful, for the group I have around me now,'' Inglewood coach Pat Roy said. "These kids worked hard all year. They were hungry, you saw that out there on the court today. They never gave up, and as a coach, that's what you want from your players.''
Kristopher Randall and Nicholas Smiley combined for eight points in the fourth quarter for the unseeded Sentinels (22-11). The seventh-seeded Highlanders (24-7), on the other hand, could not find a reliable scoring presence down the stretch, when it mattered most. And that proved to be costly.
With Smiley and Randy Onwuasor and struggling from the perimeter in the first half of play, Edward Scott Jr. picked up the slack after intermission. The junior wing scored eight points in the third quarter to help the Sentinels battle back from a six-point halftime deficit. They trailed 46-44 at the start of the fourth.
"I just did what I was supposed to do, give us a lift,'' Scott Jr. said.
Charles Lockwood picked up a pair of fouls early on and proceeded to the bench in the first quarter. With the 6-foot-9 junior on the sidelines, Scott Woods took over. Also 6-9, the fellow underclassman center scored six points and added seven rebounds and three bocks as Royal took a 31-25 advantage at the halftime break.
J.R. Powell got off to a fast start, knocking down three three-pointers in the first quarter alone. He finished with 11 points in the first eight minutes to give the Highlanders a a 17-12 lead at the end of one.
Woods had 14 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Powell had 16 points.
Randall and Smiley had 15 points each. Onwuasor had 13 points.
Wonder how long it will take for word to get back to Pierce about his alma mater?
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.