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Mission becomes first SF public school to claim state title for boys’ basketball

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Mission High School won the state title in Sacramento on Friday. (Dennis Lee/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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SACRAMENTO — All year, the Mission Bears have described their play as “grimy.”

“There’s no finesse here,” said head coach Arnold Zelaya. “We hit the floor, push, attack and get in your face.”

After letting a seven-point lead slip away in the final two minutes on Friday, Mission played as grimy as ever to defeat Villa Park in the CIF Division III State Championship at the Golden 1 Center, 82-75.

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Villa Park (27-7) closed regulation on a 9-2 run thanks to shaky free-throw shooting from the Bears, but Mission outscored the Spartans 15-8 in overtime to claim the first state championship for any public school in San Francisco history.

“After they came back, we knew it wasn’t over,” said Niamey Harris. “They still had to deal with us for four more minutes.”

Jayden Foston’s 3-pointer to open overtime gave the Bears a lead they would not surrender, and baskets by Tyrese Johnson and Foston put Mission up 80-72 to seal the game with 35 seconds to go.

A steal by Harris set up the game-sealing layup from Foston, and Harris finished the game with a flourish. His one-handed dunk provided the final points, a fitting end to his high school career.

Harris leaves Mission as one of the most accomplished athletes in San Francisco history, claiming The City’s Player of the Year Award for basketball and football in consecutive years. On Friday, he tallied a game-high 31 points and six of Mission’s 14 steals.

Foston started off cold, scoring five points in the first half, but he scored nine in the second half and seven in overtime. He was also the team’s lone reliable free-throw shooter, converting on all four of his attempts.

“I just kept shooting,” said the senior. “I knew I’d find my shot. I couldn’t let it get in my head.”

While it took Foston a while to heat up, Jamion Wright started hot. He hit two early treys and finished the evening with 15 points, including 4-for-6 shooting from long distance.

Though Mission (35-1) struggled at the free-throw line, converting just 17 of 31 on the night, the Bears were locked in from distance, sinking nine of 18 3-pointers. Villa Park, conversely, made just six threes on 25 attempts.

Four of Mission’s starters are seniors and the legacy they’ll leave will stand long after they graduate.

“I don’t think the history part has sunk in for them,” said Zelaya. “It will at some point, just like all of the lessons we teach high school kids. They might not understand it now, but this is a forever thing.”

The title also caps off a long ascension under Zelaya’s guidance for the Bears. Mission has claimed seven City titles under his leadership, including five of the last six.

Best of all, he’s been able to retain his players. Isaac Straznickas, from Mission’s class of 2014, now serves as an assistant coach.

“I was welcomed right back in,” said Straznickas. “It reflects the familial nature of this program.”

That family now can call itself state champions.

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