University High School Red Devils forward Charley Moore drives the ball against La Jolla Country Day in the third quarter of the Division III CIF state championship game on March 8, 2019, at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)

SF Preps Basketball: University boys fall in Division III state title game to La Jolla Country Day

SACRAMENTO — Four years ago, eighth graders Charley Moore and Max Fried sat in the end zone of Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion and watched as their future University High School boys’ basketball team lost to nationally-ranked Sierra Canyon in the Division V state title game. It was head coach Randy Bessolo’s fourth straight title game loss in four trips.

Longtime friends who had attended Little School elementary and Marin Country Day middle school with one another, they vowed to bring the Red Devils back for a chance at the crown. Moore turned to Fried. “By the time we graduate we’re gonna win won of these,” he said. “We’re going to win one for Randy.”

On Friday, against Southern California Division III champion La Jolla Country Day at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, University returned to the state title game for the first time since that day after a torrid playoff run that included a rivalry win and a pair of overtime thrillers. Moore and Fried, though, for all their ability (both earned All-BCL-West First-Team honors), couldn’t make good on their promise, as the Red Devils lost 67-39.

“We were hoping to keep the magic going,” said head coach Randy Bessolo.

In the postgame press conference, Moore took the table first, and alone. His jaw clenched, and he stared, blankly, straight ahead. Even as his teammates filled in behind him, and Bessolo and Fried sat to his right, he remained fixated on the back of the room, only looking down to fidget with the second-place medal in his hands.

While Fried, committed to Emory College, has been a steady force for the Red Devils all four years, scoring 1,134 points, Moore came to basketball late.

Coming into University as primarily a baseball player, he didn’t play varsity basketball until his sophomore year. He led the Red Devils with 13 points in Friday’s effort, and finishes with 1,095 in his career. He’ll play next year at Middlebury College in Vermont.

This year, Fried and Moore have had to mentor a young team that lost eight seniors, including San Francisco Player of the Year Spencer Spivey and All-Metro’s Julian Manyika from a NorCal semifinalist a year ago. Instead of soaking up all the scoring, the pair deferred to their teammates, drawing defenders in the paint while kicking out to the younger shooters. It worked for much of the season, but they were denied that throughout Friday’s game.

“The effort was there, but we didn’t start the right way,” Bessolo said.

Starting 1-for-11 from the floor, University fell behind by as many as 20 points with five-and-a-half minutes to go in the second quarter, as the Torreys denied the paint to the dynamic Moore, and bottled up Fried, who finished with just six points and five rebounds, after averaging 14.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

“All year, when Max and I would have issues in the paint, we’d kick it out and count on our guys, and they’ve come through, all season long,” Moore said. “Today, we just didn’t have it.”

The Red Devils went just 4-for-24 from beyond the 3-point arc on Friday, and went 12-for-47 (25.5 percent) from the field.

“We always say ‘feels good, looks good, next one’s good,’ and we believe the next one’s good, but we had a lot of good looks, kept shooting, and the next one wasn’t good,” Bessolo said. “We always say if we have a bad shooting game, we can still win. We just can’t have something else go wrong.”

La Jolla Country Day dominated the paint, with 47 rebounds to University’s 27.

“Second-chance points were killer, but really it was the boards, and the lack of being able to get rebounds and 50-50 balls that really explains just about all the difference in the game,” Bessolo said. “They had a lot of injuries throughout the year. They were a lot better than their record.”

The Red Devils, unable to find any rhythm, also couldn’t find a way to stop James Hapgood and lengthy shooter Ryan Langborg, who not only hit four of his first five shots, but was able to frustrate Moore. Able to trim the deficit to 16 by halftime, University went on an 8-0 run to start the second half to pull to within eight points at 34-26. That was as close as they would get.

Moore — who had gone 1-for-3 in the first half, hit his first two shots of the second half in the midst of that opening run, but then, La Jolla Country Day went on a 6-0 run, hitting 3-of-6 shots from the floor as the Red Devils went 1-of-9.

“We made a run and got back in it,” Bessolo said, “but we just couldn’t sustain it.”

A pair of hard-driving lay-ups by the Princeton-bound Langborg (who finished with a game-high 23 points and a game-high 17 rebounds) ballooned the lead to 17 once again with 1:45 left in the third, and by the end of the third, the lead was up to 22. University missed its final six shots of the third as the Torreys went 7-of-9. The Red Devils would never trail by less than 20 in the fourth quarter.

Bessolo, asked to give opening comments about the game, preferred instead to talk about the season, and about the careers, that were ending.

After Fried missed the first six games — over which University went 3-3 — the Red Devils went 24-7. In his four years on varsity, University has won 108 games, a fact Bessolo made a point of citing.

“That’s spectacular,” Bessolo said. “Charley, he’s been on varsity three years. Both of these guys are 1,000-point career scorers … but it’s not just the stats, it’s not where they’re going. It’s what they did, the example.”

The loss ends what was a gutty run through the playoffs for University. After falling to rival Stuart Hall by 6, 5, and 5 points throughout the regular season, they finally got over on the Knights and BCL-West Player of the Year Miles Amos in the North Coast Section Division V title game at Kezar Pavilion.

They followed that up with a pair of overtime thrillers against Mountain View and Foothill in the state tournament.

“We didn’t want it to end,” Bessolo said. “It’s really a testament to these young men. There was going to be no extra game after this one, so maybe that was the problem.”

When asked after the game what turned him from a baseball prospect into a basketball junkie, Moore finally brightened. His eyes lifted. He smiled.

“Two words: Randy Bessolo,” Moore said. “Coming into this school, I was definitely a baseball guy first, but through that whole process, Randy was there. The effort he puts into our team to make us good, he scouted eight games before this. He talked to me when I was a freshman, at lunch, when I came and visited. He put a lot of effort into making me feel wanted at University.”

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