SANTA ANA -- For a few moments -- an entire quarter, actually -- second-seeded Encino Crespi looked as if it were the team that had been playing on borrowed time.
The deficit kept getting larger and the crowd kept getting louder.
But the Celts, the second-seeded team in the Southern Section Division 4A playoffs, had three more quarters to prove themselves.
Rallying from a 13-point deficit after eight minutes, Crespi got 21 points from Blake Stanton and defeated upstart Mission Hills Alemany, 50-43, at the Meruelo Events Center at Mater Dei.
It is the second title for Crespi (21-11), which also won a title in 2001 against Santa Fe Springs St. Paul. But the story coming into the contest was Alemany (15-17), which had finished fourth in the Mission League and had a lowly 11-16 record at the start of the playoffs. The Warriors -- with two freshmen and two sophomores -- were playing in their first title game in the school's 53-year history; only once before had it even reached the semifinals.
But with a large and raucus crowd behind it, Alemany played like a team that was due. It scored the last 15 points of the first quarter and took a 19-6 lead against an opponent that had beaten them twice during league play.
But then . . .
"Adrenaline wears off," said Alemany's Jordan Fuller, who scored a team-high 14. "We were forced to play fundamentally and we didn't execute."
But Crespi did. The lackadaisical defense of the first quarter gave way to more focus; after allowing 19 points in the first quarter, the Celts allowed only 24 over the final three quarters. Alemany was two for 21 from three-point range and finished 28.6% from the field.
"We were not executing our game plan, we didn't get our hands up on the right guys," said Crespi Coach Russell White. "It's a lesson to all those younger players out there: Do what you coach tells you on defense and you'll probably be all right."
The defense was one part to Crespi's victory, and Stanton was the other. The senior point guard was eight of 18 from the field and helped initiate the second-quarter comeback as Crespi scored over and over in transition. His three-point basket from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded on the first half gave the Celts a 27-25 lead.
"His speed, strength, his ability to handle the ball, he's hard to guard off the dribble," White said of Stanton.
Matt Mounier scored 17 for Crespi, which trailed twice in the fourth quarter, 38-36, and 42-41. But Kenny Stenhouse hit a pair of free throws, Mounier scored inside and Stanton scored the final five points.
"We let the game come to us," Stanton said.
And then they took it.