“Champions,” chuckled Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya as he packed up his bag after the game.
“Champions” is a familiar word to associates of Mission High School, as the Bears soared over the Thurgood Marshall Phoenix in the AAA finals with a score of 89-76.
It was clear that the Bears were not intimidated at all by the squad that upset them on their home turf just a few weeks ago. They opened with a 17-8 run that included a dunk from Gione Edwards and a variety of other easy-transition buckets.
A three-point shot from Antoine Porter off a feed from Kevin Murray concluded a statement-making first quarter, giving the Bears a 22-12 advantage.
With the Bears holding a double-digit lead for most of the game, the closest the Phoenix would get came late in the third quarter, when they went on a 10-3 run to cut the score to 60-65.
Unlike Mission and Marshall’s previous meeting, when Marshall went on a 10-0 run in the last 1:45 of the game to win, the Bears dominated in the fourth quarter.
“We had great energy on the court, great communication and great tempo,” said Miles Prescott.
A 10-2 run by the Bears extended their lead back to double digits. At the 1:33 mark, junior Porter passed to Murray on the left wing. With Marshall’s big man Mark Alexander in front of Murray, the left-handed Mission junior released a three-point shot that went in while drawing Alexander’s fifth foul.
With 1:33 left and Alexander — already responsible for 14 points, 22 rebounds and 12 blocks — gone from the ball game, Mission eliminated any hope of a Marshall comeback.
After Murray made the free-throw to complete the four-point play and increase the lead to 84-70, the game’s final minute-and-a-half was simply a matter of the Bears running down the clock until the final horn went off.
The victory marks the third championship for the Bears in the last five years, and is also Mission’s third sports championship of this 2011-12 school year. The others were the varsity football and frosh/soph basketball championships.
Sophomore Isaac Strasnickas, who will receive his third ring of this school year, reflected on Mission’s dominance in the AAA, and on Bear pride.
“It feels good. We’re a winning program and we deserve these championships,” he said as he celebrated with family and friends after the game.
For the team — especially the seniors — bringing the championship trophy back to Mission meant a lot after an up-and-down season consisting of a slow preseason start, a grueling number of demanding practices and a two-game skid late in the season.
“I feel great,” said Prescott as he flaunted the championship medal around his neck. “We were all about focus and trust. That’s the only thing we’ve been stressing about to each other every day, trust. Trust one another to do the right thing, have each other’s back, make free-throws, make points and play our role.”
Despite the festivities, Mission’s journey is not over just yet.
“First, we’re going to take on the next at Nor-Cal, than after that, move on to baseball and see if we could take the championships there,” Prescott said.
The Bears know that come Monday, after school, they will have to show up to practice and focus on making noise in the state tournament. But for now, the team celebrated and exalted in victory as the top-ranked force in the AAA.