Don’t let the Crespi Celts’ perfect 19/19 performance from the free throw line in Friday night’s Division 4AA championship fool you: beating the Mission Prep Royals 61-52 was far from easy.

After jumping out to a 33-19 halftime lead thanks to stingy defense and solid shooting, Crespi had to endure several second half challenges. First, Mission Prep star senior point guard Quinton Adlesh, after being held to just three field goal attempts in the first half, sunk six second-half buckets, including three from behind the arc. Adlesh’s teammates, senior and fellow co-captain Brandon Jones, junior Matthew Blaney and sophomore Kyle Stewart also chipped in by hitting momentum-swinging jumpers at crucial moments, allowing the Royals to claw their way back into the game.

Secondly, Crespi freshman point guard Brandon Williams, who ignited the Celts’ first half effort by scoring 11 of his 13 points, re-aggravated a previous injury during a scrum for a loose ball in the fourth quarter, and had to sit out for a large chunk of the game’s final frame.

But the biggest second half challenge of all for Crespi was that, unlike their shots from the charity stripe, their field goal attempts simply were not falling. In fact, Crespi only managed to score one fourth-quarter basket, allowing Mission Prep to cut the double digit deficit down to just two points with two minutes left to play.

The Celts’ shooting touch may have eluded them in the second half, but their mental toughness never did. “There was no panic. There was no ‘woe is us. What’s going wrong?’” said Crespi head coach Russell White. “You just coach the next play and ask them [the Crespi players] to keep playing. And they did. The last two and a half minutes, they really did.”

Though they were outscored 33-28 by the Royals in the second half, the Celts buckled down during the final minutes and got the defensive stops they needed. And then there was the free throw shooting. Youth makes many high school basketball players struggle to knock down free throws during high-stakes situations such as championship games, when they know that every pair of eyes in the packed building is focused on them. Not Crespi’s players. All night long, they made free throws look as easy as layups, a real feat during a game when even the layups weren’t so easy.

Along with Williams, Crespi received great individual efforts from juniors Mitch Mykhaylov (14 points and seven rebounds) and DeAnthony Melton (12 points and nine boards), as well as senior captain Mike Krkeyan (eight points and four assists). But this game was truly a complete team effort, a shining example of a full squad coming together and outlasting a difficult stretch.

The tumultuous ebb and flow of the game in many ways mirrored the up-and-down nature of Crespi’s season. This comparison did not go unnoticed by White as he addressed his team in the locker room after the game. “There’s been ups and downs,” said White, “there’s always going to be ups and downs. Think about the season: every one of us, including me, [went] up and down at some point or another. Look where we are now. We’re at the top.”

Crespi will enter the state championships as the three-seed.