After taking refuge in the East Bay for a year, the biggest San Francisco high school sporting event of the year will be back in The City.
Well, technically, it’ll be in Daly City, but part of the Cow Palace’s parking lot is within San Francisco city limits. Regardless of such minute details, the Bruce-Mahoney basketball game will be much closer to St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral than it was a year ago, when the game was hosted at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
Considering the turnout for the 2019 game, though, it could be argued that the Bruce-Mahoney Game would draw a crowd even if it was played in Turkmenistan.
When the teams tip off at approximately 7:30 on Friday night, following the conclusion of the girls game, it’ll be a battle of young rosters filled with fresh faces. Between the two teams, the expected starting lineups have just four players who saw substantial playing time last season, and the two squads combine to regularly start three sophomores and a freshman.
SI point guard King-Jhsanni Wilhite will be just the third freshman to start in the Bruce-Mahoney Game this decade, and considering what he showed over the past weekend, he should be up for the challenge. In a hard-fought 59-58 loss to Los Angeles-Loyola in the championship game of the Wildcats’ Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic, Wilhite showed both the tremendous talent that had made him a name even before starting high school and remarkable leadership for a freshman point guard, including a three-point play at the end of the third quarter after Loyola had flipped the game with a 14-0 run.
“He’s doing phenomenal,” head coach Rob Marcaletti said. “We’re throwing a ton of information at him and he’s absorbing it, he’s coming in early to watch film and he’s doing all the things that are necessary for a freshman point guard to do. A turnover here, a missed shot there, a wrong read, oh well, we’ll live with that. I think he’s growing up every time he’s on the court, and our sophomores are growing up every time they’re on the court.”
That growth was evident during a tight battle with a Cubs team comparable to the heavyweights of the WCAL, a promising showing just a week after a stinker of a 61-48 loss to Menlo. Among the sophomores who have stepped up is GC Toledo Rivera, a guard whose mix of physicality and scoring ability have made him an instant favorite among the coaching staff.
“He’s just tough, and he’s never scared of the moment,” Marcaletti said. “He’ll hit the big shots, he’ll play defense and he’ll battle.”
Toledo Rivera’s play has parallels to that of Matt Redmond, who was a part of the last St. Ignatius team to start such a young core. Redmond was one of three sophomores to start for the Wildcats in the 2016 game, a thrilling 61-60 win.
The Fightin’ Irish have just one sophomore on their roster, but Ray John Spears is arguably Sacred Heart Cathedral’s best player, averaging 19 points per game over his first seven appearances. Like many of his teammates, Spears has dealt with injuries and illness, but head coach Sean MacKay expects his team to be at full strength come Friday night. That means a return for both Kori McCoy and Herbert Rivas, which would be Rivas’ first appearance since a Dec. 10 win over Mission.
McCoy, Rivas, Spears and Kyle Crawford will be tasked with trying to prolong the tri-sport Bruce-Mahoney Series, gunning for a win that would leave the trophy to be decided by the baseball game in the spring. The last two years, the trophy has been decided at Oracle Park in walk-off fashion, with SI taking it last season. The basketball game has gone to the Wildcats four straight years, including last year’s 65-45 rout at Haas Pavilion.
Urban impresses at Bambauer Classic: Urban expected to be a contender in the Bay Counties League West Division this year, but after their weekend showing at Marin Catholic’s Bambauer Classic, don’t expect the Blues to sneak up on anyone.
Any surprises that the Blues may have reserved became public knowledge at the 24th running of the annual tournament by pushing Serra to the brink in an inspiring 56-50 defeat and beating Lincoln 54-45, closing on a 13-0 run to top the Mustangs.
Lincoln, a favorite to knock Mission off in the Academic Athletic Association this year, already owned a win over University and engaged in a tight battle with Stuart Hall, and after freshman guards Jeremyah and Justin Aquino sat for the first half in Saturday’s contest, the two caught fire in the third quarter, combining for 11 of the team’s 17 points. Justin knocked down a pair of threes to put Lincoln up 36-28, and the lead was 45-41 in the fourth before Bryce Smith tied the game with four straight free throws and threw a pass the length of the court to set up Ryan Pescherine’s go-ahead lay-in.
Smith, who stands at just 5-foot-7, scored a game-high 21 points while Pescherine, Andrew Christine and Jaydon Aquino (no relation to Lincoln’s Aquino brothers) each scored 10. Nick Galvin had 13 points to lead the Mustangs.