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Larson wills No. 1 Redding Christian to 54-50 D-VI championship over American Christian with big fourth quarter

What Austin Larson can do on a basketball court will leave you speechless. And then he’ll find a way to top that yet again.

Redding Christian’s Austin Larson scored all 17 fourth-quarter points for Redding Christian in the Northern Section Division VI final victory over American Christian. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

What Austin Larson can do on a basketball court will leave you speechless. And then he’ll find a way to top that yet again.

A year after hitting the game-winning shot to capture a Northern Section championship, Larson was back it at it again. This time he dropped 33 points, including all 17 of Redding Christian’s fourth-quarter points to will the top-seeded Lions to a 54-50 victory over No. 2 American Christian Academy Saturday at Shasta College in the NSCIF Division VI championship, sponsored by Redding Rancheria.

“He’s big time,” Redding Christian coach Toddy Dwyer said of his senior leader, who has surpassed 2,000 career points this season and is nearing 1,000 for the 2018-19 campaign. “He always comes up big when the moment is the brightest.”

Tied at 50 with less than a minute to play and the shot clock winding down, Larson worked to get open and Jackson Black fired a behind the back pass around a defender to set Larson up for the go-ahead 3-pointer in the corner.

American Christian (28-3) had two chances to tie the game but Matteo Mancasola missed both opportunities from beyond the arc and Larson made the front-end of a 1-and-1 free throw with 8 seconds left to stretch it to a two-possession game to seal back-to-back section championships and keep the unbeaten streak alive at 31 games.

Redding Christian’s Ty Vickery (left) celebrates winning back-to-back Northern Section championships with teammates Drew Nelson-Crowell (center) and Austin Larson (right) after beating American Christian Academy 54-50 in the NSCIF D=VI title game at Shasta College on Saturday. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

“It feels amazing and I’m proud of my younger class teammates,” said Larson, referring to his fellow four underclassmen on the Lions. “We played phenomenal this entire year and worked super hard.”

As important as Larson is to the Lions, he needed the help from junior Ty Vickery early on to make sure Redding Christian stayed in it. Vickery swished a 3 to start the game to ignite the Lions on a 10-0 opening run.

Vickery finished with 15 first-half points, taking the pressure off of Larson, who was trying to force it instead of letting the Lions get in a rhythm.

“His teammates believe in him and they kept telling him he’s fine and stay aggressive and he turned it around,” Dwyer said.

ACA didn’t score for the first 5 minutes, 32 seconds but used a barrage of 3-pointers to get back in the game. The Eagles dropped seven long balls in the first half, hitting on 50 percent from deep to make it a game.

Matthew Edgar’s tip-in gave ACA a 16-15 lead after the first quarter and his 3-pointer with five seconds left in the second put the Eagles ahead 30-29 at the break. Sean Sutton, Mancasola and Edgar all hit from deep in the period.

ACA flipped the gameplan in the third and attacked inside with a bucket in the paint each from Elijah Nelson, Sutton and Mancasola. Larson answered with a 3 but the Lions trailed 39-37 heading into the fourth.

The final period saw five lead changes with Larson responding to every Eagle basket. Larson’s pull-up 3 followed by a transition layup put the Lions up 46-42 but a 3 from Donyea York and a pair of Mancasola free throws put ACA back in front.

Redding Christian big-man Drew Nelson-Crowell picked up his third and fourth foul within 14 seconds of each other early in the fourth and later fouled out down 48-47 with 1:56 left.

That left a major hole in the paint offensively and defensively for the Lions. But it only fueled Larson more, knowing he had to pick up the slack in the rebounding game and he lost a key presence and weapon in the post.

Larson drove in for an acrobatic layup and drove the baseline for a lay-in to lead 50-48. Mancasola dished to Nelson down low for 2 and the game-tying bucket. Mancasola finished with a team-best 16 points to push his career total to 1,702, ACA coach Greg Rust said.

American Christian’s Matteo Mancasola drives in against Redding Christian’s Wyatt Hughes (left) and Drew Nelson-Crowell (right) during their NSCIF D-VI championship game on Saturday at Shasta College. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

The ensuing possession, Redding Christian worked the ball around deep into the shot clock. Larson got trapped in the post and traded places with Black, who dished to him for a split-moment of separation.

It was all Larson needed as he found the bottom of the net from downtown with 28 seconds left.

ACA had opportunities but stayed beyond the arc to focus on an equalizer and never converted.

“We lacked a little movement, we weren’t opening up space and getting to the rim,” Rust said. “Matteo was the only one to get the rim and we didn’t get much movement.”

Redding Christian is expected to be the No. 1 seed in the CIF NorCal Division VI playoff bracket, which will be released Sunday.

#1 Redding Christian 54, #2 American Christian Academy 50
American Christian 16-14-9-11—50
Redding Christian 15-11-8-17—54
American Christian (28-3): Mancasola 16, Nelson 10, Sutton 8, York 8, Edgar 8.
Redding Christian (31-0): Larson 33, Vickery 15, Nelson-Crowell 4, Black 2.
3-pointers—ACA 9 (Mancasola 2, Sutton 2, Nelson 2, York 2, Edgar); Redding Christian 7 (Larson 5, Vickery 2).

T.J. is a national-award winning journalist passionate about local news and telling the story no one else knows about. He’s roamed sidelines, baselines and bleachers in the North State since 2010 and is a content producer from sunup to sundown. Sports are a hobby he shares with his wife Tracy where they’ve spent many dates around a field or court of some sort.

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