How serendipitous it was that the teams with the top records in the AAA squared off against each other Friday night in one last match for the title at a packed Kezar Pavilion, where their fans watched a nail-biter end with the Washington Eagles scoring a 75-72 victory over the Mission Bears.
Washington fans claimed one side of the stands while Mission supporters took the other side of the court. Coverage of the match-up tonight was abundant. Reporters and photographers from San Fran Preps and Comcast were all gathered to record the championship game.
Needless to say, everybody in the crowd witnessed a tense game as Mission, which had been trailing for most of the evening, mounted one final comeback attempt that ultimately fell short as the game came down to the final second and shot.
“It hurts. We worked hard but we just couldn’t get the job done,” said Mission’s Shaquile Fisher.
Forcing turnovers, the focus of Mission’s year-long game plan, favored the opposing team as the Bears threw the ball away a staggering 31 times, while Washington limited mistakes to just 21 turnovers.
“We were able to take care of the ball. A couple weeks ago (Feb. 22), we just could not take care of the ball. [Mission’s] press was just unbelievable, but we were able to take care of the ball and make plays down the stretch,” said Washington head coach Jolinko Lassiter.
For the majority of the ball game Washington leaned on a 5-to-10 point cushion, but Mission woke up in the final minute of the third quarter, closing it out on a 6-0 run that tied the score at 53-53.
The fourth period consisted of emotion, cheers, jeers and most of all pressure. Both sides went neck-to-neck, and the lead was up for grabs.
The Eagles struck, establishing a six-point lead during the last minute of the game. Hope was fading for fans of the Bears, and the Eagles started to celebrate. The Bears, however, wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Junior Miles Prescott grabbed a missed free-throw attempt and quickly pushed the ball to make an uncontested lay-up while the Washington defense was still trying to set itself up.
The drama level rose when junior guard Algeron Malbrough picked off a Washington pass and quickly dished it off to sophomore guard Antoine Porter for a 3-pointer, cutting the score to 75-72.
The intensity reached a peak when Washington’s leading scorer, Brendon Glapion, missed two consecutive free-throws that would have made the score a two-possession game.
Despite having the game in striking distance, the Bears could not get a 3-point shot to tie it up. Numerous opportunities were taken from Mission, but the final shots missed.
The instant the last buzzer rang, the Washington players erupted and their fans leaped to the court in absolute joy. Mission looked on with desolation as they wiped away their tears.
“Our seniors have to keep their heads up. The rest of us on the team are going to come back with a grudge next year,” said Fisher after taking in the loss.
Both teams aren’t quite finished with basketball yet, though.
“Well, we’re going to enjoy this win and then…on to Nor Cal,” said Washington’s Lassiter when asked what would happen next.
Despite tonight’s outcome, Mission will be granted a pass to compete in the Nor Cal tournament.
“We’re going to play hard like we did today, and we’re going to go as far as we can,” said senior Jaleel Stancil, who is in possession of a championship title from the previous year. Stancil, Travis Price-Moku, Davonta Gaines and Alec Tatum are playing their last year with Mission basketball as seniors.