KEZAR PAVILION — The Mission Bears boys’ basketball team continued its unbeaten streak in Academic Athletic Association play on Friday, winning their 54th in a row.
While the streak itself is historic, the 55-46 win over Lincoln wasn’t just another notch on the Bears’ belt.
The win at Kezar Pavilion marked Mission’s fifth City championship in a row, their seventh title in eight years and their eighth in 10 seasons, and they did it not by relying on the only remaining player from their improbable 2017 state championship — Ben Knight — but by a whole cast of scorers.
“We’ve been putting up a fight all year,” Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya said. “I was glad it came down to us two teams. [Lincoln head coach Carl Jacobs] and I have a ton of respect for each other and it was a good matchup. They fought hard. It was a sloppy game, a lot of travels and stuff so we will see how that fares for the next round of games for us.”
Like the girl’s game that preceded it, the boys’ championship was a defensive matchup, with neither team able to find a consistent pace on offense. Both teams got out of the gate slow, with the score tied 10-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Still, there were some exciting plays during the opening period.
Mission senior guard David Sonnier electrified the Kezar crowd early with a monster one-handed dunk to finish off a fast break. Earlier in the quarter, Knight went for his own big dunk, but was unable to finish it due to a hard foul. Still, Knight was able to sink both free throws.
Junior guard Andre Villarino only scored five points on the night, but his hustle on defense made a massive difference for the Bears. Villarino turned in two of his three blocked shots during the first quarter, and also came up with a steal during that period. Even though he didn’t have the best offensive night, Villarino was able to dish out the ball to teammates by driving hard to the basket and making defenders close in on him before kicking it out.
Sonnier scored six of his 11 points in the second quarter, helping the Bears pull away. He was able to use his long length to navigate his way through the lane, and used finger rolls and reverse layups to score in the crowded paint.
While Mission was starting to find its way on offense, Lincoln lost its way. Scoring just 10 more points in the second quarter, the Mustangs couldn’t find any player to take the lead, while the Bears had no shortage of weapons, with freshman guard Maurice Oliver hitting a buzzer-beater to put Mission up 28-20 at the half.
Bears sophomore forward Matthew Cohn proved to be the catalyst for Mission during the third quarter, scoring seven of his game-high 15 points during the period and helping to carry the Bears’ offense at times when the rest of his team went flat.
Lincoln managed to narrow the lead to six in the third quarter, with Mission up 33-27, but a big three by senior guard Jaraughn Torno ended that comeback try. Torno, who finished the game with 10 points, made two big second half threes that helped clinch his team the win.
“Those two were real big, particularly when we needed it,” Zelaya said.
“I think we came out the second half and made the adjustments and played like we should have during the first half,” Jacobs said. “During the first half we got away from stuff, and made it a lot tougher on ourselves.”
Mission started the fourth up 40-32 but Lincoln sophomore guard Joseph Fox drove to hoop and scored off the glass to start a Mustang run. Lincoln was fouled on its next three offensive possessions and made all six of its attempted free throws, narrowing the lead down to 42-40.
Mission responded, thanks to Knight. Up only by two, Knight drove the lane and scored on a circus shot to give his team a 44-40 lead. Moments later, Knight would strike again. This time, he forced a steal and then sprinted down court for the fast break basket, increasing his team’s lead to six. Knight scored 6 of his 10 points during the fourth quarter, and his clutch play helped save Mission down the stretch.
“We were only up by two and I was thinking, ‘I can’t let us go down like that,’” Knight said. “That is not the way I want to go, especially my senior year. So I had to turn it up. I was in my head the entire game and I had to pick my team up.”
From that point on, the Bears would control the pace of the game and continued to increase their lead until the final buzzer.
“These guys battled,” Jacobs said. “The shots just didn’t fall for us at the end. We missed a lot of shots and that is tough.”
Although it wasn’t his team’s best game, Zelaya was pleased by his player’s hard intensity and believes that they can fix on their mistakes in order to make a run at another state title.
“It was kind of a sloppy game, but in these sloppy games it ends up who wants it more,” Zelaya said. “The desire was there. Yeah we need to clean up some stuff on offense but we will see what draw we get.”