Inside the realms of Kezar Pavilion one year ago, Mission High edged out Wallenberg with a 67-60 victory. This year, these two ball clubs brawled in a rematch that had the Bears emerging from the gates as victors over the Bulldogs once again in a teeth-rattling 69-66 contest.
In a very similar fashion to last year’s game, in which Wallenberg threw the ball away 30 times, the 32 turnovers committed by the team in navy colors would lead to its downfall for the second year in a row.
“A lot of our turnovers were forced. I thought that the Mission defense did a really great job against us, and I thought that we played extremely hard as well. It was a great high school game because both teams just played gosh-darn hard,” said Wallenberg head coach Patrick Mulligan.
The Bears, as they have proven to be all season, were absolute pests on the defensive end, and their notorious full-court press really disturbed Wallenberg’s offensive possessions.
“I thought that [our defense] was a big factor in our game because it forced a lot of turnovers, which led to a lot of fast breaks. We only won by three, so those points we got from our fast break buckets really helped us out,” said sophomore guard Antoine Porter, who scored 14 points. He and forward Gione Edwards, who scored 17 points, were the only two players to record double figures in scoring.
Statistics aside, the atmosphere of last night’s ball game was extremely intense. Consistent and efficient shooting kept the Bulldogs in the game, staying within single digits throughout and really making it interesting in the fourth quarter, when they twice tied the score.
Aggressive defense and hard contact was made during the last minutes of the final frame, as the drama built. The crowd made its presence known with 1:10 left on the clock, when Mission forward Miles Prescott was called for an offensive foul while attempting to score on a transition play. Both fans and staff of Mission High School basketball erupted with anger as playoff pandemonium started to emerge.
The crucial moment came when Antoine Porter was intentionally fouled with 8.5 seconds left and the scoreboard showing Mission with a 67-66 advantage. Porter now had the opportunity to push the lead to three and make Wallenberg’s chances of a tie or a go-ahead bucket highly improbable. The first-year player showed no sign of nerves or anxiety whatsoever as he calmly went through his free-throw routine and converted on two attempts. The score was 69-66, and Wallenberg was unable to execute an eight-second play for three points to extend the game.
“I told them to just stay aggressive on offense, continue to play defense, and knock down your free-throws. But Wallenberg played a hell of a game, they really pushed us and we were lucky to get the win,” said Arnold Zelaya, relating what he told his players during the final minutes of the game.
“We’ll worry about [preparing for next season] tomorrow. We’ll lick our wounds tonight and worry about that later,” said Mulligan when asked about how he plans to bounce back next season.
“I think it’s really hard for the seniors to finish up their season, but to their credit, we played our two best games of the year in the last two games. I really felt that they gave a champion’s effort tonight,” Mulligan said with a proud smile.
This semi-finals conquest puts the Mission Bears back in the middle of the brackets, as the reigning champions will confront the Washington Eagles Friday night at Kezar Stadium at 7 p.m. in one final clash for the ultimate prize that is currently inside Mission’s trophy case. These two teams have exchanged blowout wins against each other during the regular season.
It will be a showcase of the public schools’ most elite forces, as Mission (15-1) and Washington (14-2) hold the two best records in all of AAA. Now they will finally be able to prove which organization is truly the most relentless, and can claim possession of AAA’s most prestigious award, the championship gold.
Gione Edwards – 17 points
Antoine Porter – 14 points
Travis Price-Moku – 8 points
Jaleel Stancil – 7 points
Ronnie Campbell – 19 points
Aaron Brown – 15 points
Andrew Chuong – 13 points
David Li – 13 points
Go Bears! What makes the defense so good?