ENCINITAS — The temperatures may have been dropping in North County, but the San Dieguito boys varsity basketball team stayed hot this week and punched its ticket to the CIF championship game.
The Mustangs led from start to finish on Tuesday night at home against Grossmont High School. And despite an attempt at a comeback from the Foothillers, San Dieguito Academy pulled away to clinch a 66-54 win and a trip to Thursday night’s CIF Division III Championship.
The top-seeded Mustangs (19-7) play No. 3 seed Scripps Ranch (21-10) at 5 p.m. in Thursday’s final at San Marcos High School. The Falcons, of the City League, advanced with a 61-58 win over second-seeded Madison on Tuesday.
For SDA, Tuesday’s victory accomplished a goal set before the season by head coach Jason Stewart.
A year ago, the Mustangs advanced to the CIF semifinals but were unable to move past rival, and eventual CIF champion, Sage Creek. When this season started, Stewart told his team the goal was to make it further than that.
With their victory Tuesday, the Mustangs achieved one goal, but a second one remains.
“Listen we have one more to go,” Stewart told The Coast News following Tuesday’s win. “Why come this far and not try to win it all? So we’ve come this far and that’s our focus.”
The Mustangs were led on Tuesday, as they have been all season, by their core of senior playmakers, James and John Hapgood and Owen Isachsen, who established a physical style of play from the start.
John Hapgood led all scorers with 18 points, his twin brother James had 16 and Isachsen added 15.
“Those guys are dynamite,” Stewart said of his twin stars. “I think if there is a college, a lower-level Division 1, that is interested in guys who play bigger than their size and have an intuition for the game, I think that these guys are both underrated.”
San Dieguito jumped out to a fast 12-0 lead and never trailed. But the Foothillers did not go away quietly. With about 3 minutes remaining, they cut the lead to just two points.
But the Mustangs stayed true to their game plan and held off the attack.
“They are a well-coached team, a very well-coached team,” Stewart said. “They executed well, and their game plan was coming to fruition. They want you to get tired and they get stronger as the game goes on.”
Before heading off for Thursday’s neutral-site final, Stewart had nothing but praise for the SDA fans who turned out for Tuesday’s home win.
“Big credit to all the Mustang faithful who came out here tonight,” Stewart said following the semifinal win. “This atmosphere really puts it over the top. I really am grateful for them making their voice heard. … Our crowd was amazing, it was amazing.”