The playground-style showdown that had been building with each matching basket throughout the second half had reached its crescendo.
Mission junior guard Demaree Hampton and Lowell counterpart Travis Hom, a senior, had driven past one another for layups, hit 3-pointers over the other and kept their fingers extended from the follow-through motion in mirroring poses while nodding their heads and jogging back to halfcourt. Now, with the Bears holding a one-point lead and Harry Howard stepping to the free-throw line for two shots with 17.6 seconds remaining, Hampton and Hom stood off to the side smiling and seemingly sharing a friendly chat.
“He told me he was going to go down, hit a 3 and they were going to win it,” Hampton said. “And I just told him ‘Nope. Not again. Not this year.’”
Howard hit the two free throws and Hom got off a clear shot from 26 feet, as promised. But this time, the guard who had scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and led Lowell to the past two section titles — including a 72-69 overtime win over the Bears a year ago — saw his shot hit the inside of the rim before rattling out. Howard got the rebound and made one more foul shot, providing the final margin in Mission’s 58-54 win.
The Bears advance to Friday’s 5 p.m. final back at Kezar, where they will meet Lincoln. The teams split their two meetings during the Academic Athletic Association season.
“That’s the shot we wanted and it looked like it should have counted for 2 — it went that far in,” Lowell coach Robert Ray said. “Travis is amazing and he’s going to be missed. Not just by me, but by the league as a whole.”
Hampton finished with 27 points for Mission (24-4), including a driving layup with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter to put the Bears up 54-52. Hom answered seconds later with a drive of his own to tie the score and the Cardinals (22-9) almost earned a steal on the next possession. But Mission center Ronell Foster pounced on a loose ball, drew a foul and hit the front end of a 1-and-1 with 21.1 seconds remaining to give the Bears a 55-54 lead. He missed the second, but tipped the rebound out to Howard.
“I wasn’t nervous — that was just free money,” Howard said. “That’s the situation you want to be in and now we have another shot at a title.”
Lincoln 63, Wallenberg 45
Deend Parker scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the first half and the Mustangs (24-9) led 35-17 at the intermission on the way to a win over the Bulldogs (25-5) in the other San Francisco Section semifinal.
Drew Bologna and Devin Koch added 13 apiece for Lincoln, which hit its first four shots and made steals on eachof Wallenberg’s first three possessions in racing out to an 11-1 lead. Junior Travis Barabin had 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead Wallenberg.