Center Jude Abasi from the University High School boys varsity basketball team jumps into the air to pass the basketball to a teammate over Benny Duffin from the Crossroads High School boys varsity basketball team at St. Monica's highschool on Monday November 30th as University High School and Crossroads high faced off in the first round of the St. Monica's classic and Crossroads won 81-74

The Crossroads boys basketball team knew it would be in for a tough game against city rival Santa Monica after watching part of Jonah Mathews’ 41-point performance a night earlier at the St. Monica tournament.

But the Roadrunners didn’t shy away from the challenge.

Instead, they used an early lead and gritty play down the stretch to defeat Samohi 62-60 on Tuesday night, seizing a landmark victory in the early stages of what could be a promising 2015-2016 season.

“It’s a testament to what we just did,” coach Daryl Roper said after the game. “If you believe and play to the level of your belief, the sky’s the limit. This is how it’s going to be. If our guys play like that and play with the expectation of winning, we can do some damage.”

It remains to be seen whether Roper’s team can build on its outing last season, when it reached the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA quarterfinals and finished with a 14-12 overall record.

The recent victory over Samohi offered a window into how Crossroads can succeed this year despite its lack of interior size and strength. The Roadrunners made seven 3-pointers, stymied the Vikings with an active zone defense and showed determination in the rebounding battle.

Leading the way for Crossroads was Cole Thomas, who had 13 of his team-high 17 points in the second half. He scored on an offensive rebound, in the post, on dribble drives and at the foul line, including two game-sealing free throws with 8.2 seconds remaining.

The versatile 6-foot-3 junior also played point guard for crucial stretches and served a key role in the Roadrunners’ defensive schemes.

Perhaps no shot was bigger than senior Nicky Shapiro’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 47 seconds left, which gave Crossroads a 59-56 edge it never relinquished. Shapiro was one of three seniors in the starting lineup against Samohi, joining Ethan Zakarin and Henry Ward.

Shapiro finished with 13 points, Zakarin added 11 and Ward chipped in six.

Roper was also encouraged by the play of starting forward Jacob Ray (11 points), the only freshman on the roster. His 3-pointer gave the Roadrunners a 22-7 lead early in the second quarter, and his jumper cut the Roadrunners’ deficit to one midway through the fourth.

“We have no real strong post game, but we have lots of shooters,” Roper said. “We’re just hoping we can fuse together. I tell the guys they just have to do their jobs. ‘Do your job, and do it well.’”

Roper is anxiously waiting to incorporate Darryl Houston and Jay Davis, who are expected to become eligible this month. Houston, a sophomore point guard who transferred from Los Angeles-Price, will add “another whole element” to the Crossroads offense, Roper said. Davis, who played at West Hollywood-Pacific Hills as a freshman last year, also figures to make an impact with the Roadrunners.

Houston and Davis will likely help the Roadrunners in a talented Gold Coast League that features defending section champion Los Angeles-Windward, section runner-up Calabasas-Viewpoint and Chatsworth-Sierra Canyon.

But it’ll take more than additional personnel to compete against teams like Samohi later in the season, Roper said.

“We either come out and play like we did or we’re going to get smashed,” he said. “And that’s exactly what I told them. Our guys rose to the challenge. They came out and once they figured out they could play with them, and they played hard and played strong and could be right there, they could get some momentum. We just kept fighting.”

jeff@www.smdp.com