Santa Maria coach Dave Yamate felt his team played its most complete game of the season Friday night.
Santa Maria nearly doubled-up Burbank Providence in the second half, then hung on for an 87-79 win, advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division 5AAA quarterfinals on a wild night inside Wilson Gym.
Santa Maria's Joey Nevarez, one of nine seniors on the team, scored 31 points for the second game in a row. Blake Truhitte, another senior, added 25 points for the Saints (19-7).
Providence ends its season at 19-10. The Pioneers started the playoffs with a 94-51 win over Garey Wednesday, but went up against a much stronger team Friday night.
Santa Maria's offense clearly played at a high level, but Yamate felt his team's defense was the biggest difference-maker.
"We've been talking about hitting our stride and, even though it got a little tight there down the stretch, that was one of our most complete games of the year," Yamate said. "Our defensive pressure made it very difficult for them to get back in it. We kept hitting shots. Even that last big 3 by (Clark) Kringel, that's what we preach. I couldn't be more excited for them."
Nevarez sank eight 3-pointers and the Saints hit 13 as a team, which is right around their season average.
"It feels great right now," Nevarez said of advancing to the quarterfinals. "It was a crazy win, they started coming back, it was a crazy finish, but we're excited to keep it going."
The Saints will play at Garden Grove (27-1), the division's top seed, Tuesday night in the quarterfinals. Garden Grove beat Desert Christian Academy 69-29 Friday night.
"We have a tough matchup next week but we're confident if we go out there and play 110-percent we can beat anyone," Nevarez said. "We've just got to come back to work tomorrow and get ready for Tuesday."
Santa Maria asserted its dominance early, leading 21-10 before taking a 21-14 lead after the first quarter. Truhitte powered the offense in the first half, slashing to the rim and handling the bulk of the team's ball-handling duties.
Truhitte had 20 points at halftime, scoring 12 in the second quarter. Santa Maria led 51-30 at the break.
Nevarez started the third quarter with back-to-back 3s and Santa Maria built up its lead to 59-30 with a Truhitte drive to the basket.
The Pioneers then went on an 11-0 run to cut into the Saints' lead, but Nevarez stopped that streak with another deep 3-pointer.
Jon Ramos, who scored 14 points for Santa Maria, added a bucket inside to make the score 64-43 and Nevarez sank two more 3-pointers to put Santa Maria up 70-45. The Saints led 72-48 after three quarters.
Then Providence really turned it on, outscoring Santa Maria 31-15 in the fourth. Tevan Khudatyan led the Pioneers' late charge with 15 points in the second half. He finished 21 in the game.
The Pioneers sank five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, but Santa Maria's Clark Kringel hit the biggest 3 of the game.
Providence held all the momentum with Santa Maria leading 81-75 and about 2:30 left in the game. Truhitte drove inside and kicked to an open Kringel on the wing. Kringel put up a 3 and it hit nothing but net, giving Santa Maria an 84-75 advantage.
"Clark was voted Defensive Player of the Year for the Los Padres League, and you saw why tonight," Yamate said of Kringel. "He does all those little things. He either comes up with a loose ball or he can hit the big shot. The kid just works so hard and he's a pleasure to coach."
Providence cut the lead to 84-77, but Truhitte hit a free throw and Jon Ramos sank two more down the stretch to seal the win.
Nevarez spoke of his preparation after Friday's win, saying he's been shooting nearly every day for the last four years.
"It's been almost four years every day getting 200 shots up," he said. "That's all of us, that's all of our team. We're all ready to shoot. I just get the open looks and I just pull them."
Nevarez said he enjoys playing on the guard-oriented team. Ramos, 6-foot-3, and Dejoure Burres, 6-foot-6, are the only Santa Maria rotation players over 6-foot. Nevarez is 5-foot-10.
"It's fun, it's a lot of fun," he said. "That's kind of our style; pull a lot of 3s and fastbreaks. It's a fun program to play for."