Lowell head coach Rob Ray dreads his team’s annual trips to Mission.
On a tiny floor in a gym that predates the Great Depression, the Cardinals are typically plagued by Mission’s up-tempo defense, committing turnovers left and right.
For one night, Lowell finally flipped the script, getting 39 points from Cal Ladine in a 74-53 win, their first road victory over the Bears since 2006 and their first of any sort against Mission since 2016, snapping a 12-game head-to-head losing streak.
“It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in high school,” said Ladine. “Our team seems to be firing on all cylinders right now, and I feel like we have the upper hand right now. The past three years, they had the upper hand on us, but right now it really looks like we’re in control.”
Leading 40-32 at halftime, Lowell (19-6, 9-3 AAA) outscored the Bears 23-9, with Ladine scoring 17 as the shorthanded Bears couldn’t find any way to stop the 6-foot-3 forward. Missing three starters to injury, including Julian Neal (wrist), who likely would have covered Ladine, the Cardinals were able to feed their star time and time again.
“Today it wouldn’t have mattered who was out there,” Ray said. “They’re missing some guys, but whether they’re missing guys or not, it’s not taking away from what we did.”
Ladine and Rishi Raghavan outscored Mission (14-11, 10-2) all by themselves, with Raghavan collecting 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists, with his slick pass to Ladine on the final play of the third gave the Cardinals a 63-41 lead.
“When you pass the ball to someone and they score, it feels 100 percent better than when you score,” he said.
While Ladine does the bulk of the scoring, he’s certainly not a self-centered player, well aware of Raghavan’s importance.
“As good as Cal is, every time in the locker room after games, for Cal, it’s all about Rishi. When Rishi’s good, we’re all good,” Ray said. “His leadership is very vital to how well we play.”
For the Bears, their hopes of a seventh consecutive regular season AAA championship are all but over as they sit two games back of Lincoln (22-3, 12-0) with just two remaining. However, they should get Neal, Noah Lee and Marcelo Solis back in time for the playoffs. Sophomore Kai Krejci had nine points and nine rebounds, making the most out of his playing time in Neal and Solis’ absences, while Taariq Norbert and Andre Villarino each scored 11 to lead the hosts. Reggie Torno also scored nine and Maurice Oliver added eight for the Bears, who suffered just their second league loss in four years.
“They kept coming,” head coach Arnold Zelaya said. “My guys aren’t used to struggling scoring that much, and we asked some guys to play more minutes than they’re used to. Injuries are part of the game, and we dealt with it a lot in nonleague play, but it keeps coming back to us and we’ve gotta fight through it.”
Riordan shocked at the buzzer: With first place in the WCAL on the line, the Riordan Crusaders held Mitty’s entire starting lineup to 12 combined points, but they had no way of stopping Arrish Bhandal.
The Monarchs’ 6-foot-9 backup center scored 31 points, including the winning basket in the final seconds, as Mitty (18-4, 9-3 WCAL) pulled out a 61-59 road win, creating a three-way tie for first place in the WCAL alongside Bellarmine and Riordan.
Bhandal had 13 in the fourth quarter alone, with a pair of three-pointers, including one after an error by the shot clock operator gave the Monarchs a fresh 35 seconds to work with. The last of his threes tied the game at 52, and he’d put his team ahead with an and-1 on the next possession. After the Monarchs took a four-point lead, Riordan (18-4, 9-3) would get a Je’Lani Clark three-pointer, then a Chan Ngot putback to answer one from Bhandal. Dominic Wilson would be fouled as he grabbed a rebound with 36.2 seconds left, and though he’d make the first free throw to tie the game, he’d miss the second. Mitty took timeout with 12 seconds left, and with time winding down, Stuart Hall transfer Nigel Burris, who scored eight off the bench, would feed an open Bhandal in the lane for the winning basket.
The loss leaves the shell-shocked Crusaders now needing to win their final two games, on Friday at St. Francis and next Tuesday at home against Sacred Heart Cathedral, just to maintain their share of first place.
“It’s gonna be tough for sure,” head coach Joey Curtin said of his team’s need to refocus. “But we have no choice.”
Clark scored 20 and Bryce Monroe led the Crusaders with 22, but the pair combined to make just five of 18 3-point attempts. As a team, Riordan collected just seven assists as Mitty’s zone defense gave the home side fits.