Kai Morphy of Bishop Diego drives on a Vistamar defender during CIF State Tournament game at the Brick House, Morphy scored 27 points. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

It was a little bit of a struggle, but the Bishop Diego boys basketball team shook off the pain of its last-second loss in the CIF-SS Southern Section final and fought off the pressure of visiting Vistamar to score a 63-51 victory in a Division 5 first-round game of the CIF State Boys Basketball Tournament on Tuesday night at the Brick House Gym.

The state tournament victory is the first in program history for Bishop Diego boys basketball.

Sophomore Kai Morphy was a big reason the Cardinals (22-12) extended their season another game. He poured in 27 points, with 12 coming in the third quarter, when Bishop wore down Vistamar and outscored the team it beat in the Southern Section 5AA semifinals, 23-12.

“Morphy’s Law, I guess,” cracked Bishop Diego coach James Coronado. “He’s clutch. And you know the biggest thing for him is, he’s adjusting to the role. We knew Matt (Cunningham) is our guy, and (Morphy) is filling in admirably, just picking and choosing his spots. He could easily be crying about getting shots and complaining about that, but he’s kind of biding his time and, whenever we need him, he always seems to make them. It’s crazy.”

Bishop Diego will next play second-seeded L.A. Roosevelt in East Los Angeles on Thursday. Roosevelt, the L.A. City Section Division 2 champion, beat 15th seeded  Cathedral City, 76-57, in state Division 5 opener on Tuesday.

“I think we all came back with a chip on our shoulders,” said Morphy of the feeling the team had after the 62-60 loss to Arrowhead Christian on a buzzer-beating putback in the 5AA championship game last Saturday. “None of us were really put down from the loss, it kind of motivated us in a good way to come back and make a really good run in state and not let it happen again.”

Vistamar didn’t make it easy.

Tyler Williams splits two Vistamar defenders on a drive to the basket. Williams scored 16 points for Bishop Diego.

Tyler Williams splits two Vistamar defenders on a drive to the basket. Williams scored 16 points for Bishop Diego. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

The Vikings played a high pressure, full-court defense to take Bishop out of sync in the second quarter, and they got big plays from its quick point guard Shane May-Suzuki and post player Royce Samaniego to rally from a 21-13 deficit and tie score at 22-22 at halftime.

They carried their momentum into the third quarter, took their first lead of the game and went ahead 29-26 on a three-pointer from  Fanuel Alemayehu.

But Bishop Diego never got rattled, even when center Connor Streett picked up his fourth foul.

The Cardinals got steady play off the bench from freshman Luis Fernandez. 

“He came in and gave us some great mniutes in the second half,” said Coronado

“They made a presence for themselves,” said Morphy of the players off the bench.

Tyler Williams got the Cardinals rolling again with a three-pointer to retake the lead, 35-34.  After the Vikings missed a lay-up, Morphy drove hard to the basket, drew a foul and converted a three-point play for a 38-34 advantage.

Williams, who finished with 16 points, and Marcus Chan scored on drives and Morphy buried a corner trey — his third three-pointer of the period —to cap a 13-0 run and open up 45-34 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Morphy continued to frustrate Vistamar with his play at the start of the final period. He stole the ball and fed Matthew Cunningham who finished with layup and was fouled. Morphy then scored on a reverse lay-up and knocked down another three-pointer to put the Cardinals ahead 55-41.

Connor Streett hits half-court shot at end of first quarter for Bishop Diego in State tournament opener versus Vistamar. Bishop leads 16-8 pic.twitter.com/K7YHGwVuKK

— NoozhawkSports (@NoozhawkSports) March 4, 2020

“I just gained a little more confidence with my shot in the third and fourth quarters,” Morphy said of his hot-shooting in the second half. “Every time I got a little bit of space I pulled it and it started going in. I just trusted my shot and I kept doing it.”

Going into the game, Coronado said he was “super nervous” about how the team would respond after Saturday’s heart-breaking loss at the buzzer and playing against a good team it already had beaten.

“I didn’t say anything to those guys because we’ve been saying all along they’re too young to know better and they wouldn’t even think about it unless I put it in their head,” he said. “But I knew it was going to be tough, and they came out and they responded.”

Kai Morphy buries a corner three in the third quarter. He made five treys in Bishop Diego’s 63-51 win over Vistamar in the state tournament pic.twitter.com/AVQmilzDVC

— NoozhawkSports (@NoozhawkSports) March 4, 2020

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.