SAN MARCOS — A hoop dream nearly six decades in the making was fulfilled Thursday night at San Marcos High School.
Almost 57 years to the day since its last CIF title, the San Dieguito Academy boys basketball team outlasted Scripps Ranch 57-46 to win the CIF San Diego Section Division III championship.
The top-seed Mustangs overcame a physical matchup in front of an enthusiastic crowd to proudly hoist the program’s long-coveted crystalline CIF trophy.
Senior John Hapgood led the Mustangs with 25 points, helping the team pull away in the game’s final minutes to seal a victory over the No. 3-seed Falcons (21-11).
“It just shows why (Hapgood’s) the player of the year. That guy can do everything,” Mustangs head coach Jason Stewart told The Coast News. “Just as big is his leadership. I can’t say enough about that kid.”
John, and his twin brother James Hapgood, who added eight points of his own Thursday night, took a winding path in their high school careers to get to San Dieguito Academy after starting their freshman year at La Jolla Country Day.
But the path led the dynamic pair right where they wanted to go.
“I was just out there playing the game I love and making sure our hard work didn’t go to waste,” John said. “I was just putting it all out there on the floor and that’s all I could do. I couldn’t be happier and prouder of the guys.”
San Dieguito Academy (20-7) must wait to see if its storybook season and championship crown will earn the team a spot in the CIF state tournament.
But regardless if the team plays again, Stewart thinks college coaches are missing out on John Hapgood if they don’t see him as a scholarship player at the next level.
“This guy is a diamond, he’s a diamond. And he’s hiding right now,” Stewart said.
But Thursday night’s Division III San Diego Section final proved a formidable challenge for the Mustangs, who rallied from behind to take a 25-22 lead over the Falcons at halftime. San Dieguito held off Scripps Ranch in the second half, only reaching a comfortable lead in the final stages of the game.
Both teams were coming off physical matchups in their respective semifinal rounds earlier this week. In Tuesday’s semifinal game against Grossmont High School, the Mustangs never trailed but held off the Foothillers’ fourth-quarter rally to win 66-54 and advance to the final.
For the title game, the Falcons appeared determined early to control the tempo against the Mustangs.
“They executed their game plan very, very well and kept us right where they wanted us to be quite frankly,” Stewart said of the Falcons. “We just made the stops we needed to down the stretch to get to the margin we were looking for.”
In terms of offense, the Mustangs were also aided by senior Owen Isachsen, one of several upperclassmen leaders, who finished with 12 points, including San Dieguito’s first three-pointer of the game to kickstart the Mustangs’ offense.
From the beginning of the season, the Mustangs’ goal was just to reach the CIF title game. Now with a championship under their belts, the team has set its sights on a possible state tournament run.
“I mean if we’re winning, why not keep going right?” Hapgood said. “I’m definitely looking for another ring on my hand and I hope we can just take the experience that we’ve had and just bring this team with us forward.”
And with the way the parents, students and the community continues to embrace the team, there is a feeling the Mustangs can accomplish just about anything.
“With the community behind our backs we feel like we can do a lot,” Stewart said. “The community has really embraced this team. San Dieguito Academy is back on the map.”