On the surface, the San Marcos High girls basketball team looks like the same group that won the Prep Division of last year’s SoCal Holiday Prep Classic.
A lot has changed since the 2011 tournament.
For one thing, the Knights moved up two divisions in this year’s event and have reached the championship game again.
San Marcos outlasted pesky and undermanned Las Flores Tesoro 48-45 in Friday’s final day of pool play, finishing with a 3-0 record and a berth in the finals at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Westview High.
And the Knights, who are now 9-4 after winning six of their last seven outings, have become even closer while standing up to adversity.
Each player wears one pink shoelace to show support for senior guard Jordan Mottershaw, whose mother Julie, the San Marcos principal, is battling breast cancer.
“Just that little sign of support helps me get through this,” said Jordan Mottershaw, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “Playing games allows me the chance to be myself for a little while and not think about anything bad in my life.
“I’m sure mom would rather this be all about the team and how well we’re playing, but my teammates have been great every step of the way. I can’t imagine going through this without them.
“I’m a pretty strong person anyway, but I’m just trying to stay positive for my teammates.”
It took all of that closeness to best Tesoro, which held the lead for all but 17 seconds of the first half and led 43-42 with 3:29 remaining in the game, played at Canyon Crest.
Mottershaw’s driving basket with 13.9 seconds left for a 46-43 lead proved to be the game-winning shot.
Mottershaw, who is headed to Western Oregon next year, added a pair of free throws with five seconds to play to ice it.
“Our goal is to win (the Avocado East League), so we have to keep getting better,” San Marcos coach Roger DiCarlo said. “We had a letdown after beating a 12-0 Channel Islands team (Thursday).
“That would be a Top 10 team here, so I’m a little surprised it took us to the last second to put away Tesoro.”
Tesoro (6-8) nearly pulled off the upset before losing its sixth straight game despite playing without four post players for various reasons.
“Because of our situation, I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played, taking that team to the wire,” Tesoro coach Jim Arneson said.
The same thing can be said for how the Knights are playing with everything swirling around them right now.
“To get to the finals in a stronger division is great,” Mottershaw said. “With that win over Channel Islands and now being in the finals again, we have a chance to finish off the tournament really strong.”
Not to mention learning a lot about themselves along the way.