ARCHBISHOP RIORDAN HS — Young high school basketball teams with minimal experience on their rosters have two choices: They can start the season with a soft schedule to ease players in, or they can choose to hit the ground running, learning on the fly against tough opponents.
The Mission Bears chose the latter, and though there were some ugly stretches in Wednesday’s 71-57 loss to the San Ramon Valley Wolves, it’s that sort of exposure to tough competition that has allowed the Bears to win four straight Academic Athletic Association titles and become the only San Francisco public school to win a boys basketball state championship.
With just one returning starter, Ben Knight, and only two other players with significant minutes in prior years, Mission (0-1) will be spending much of December finding out strengths and weaknesses through battles against top teams.
That was the case in the first round of the 60th Riordan Crusader Classic, as San Ramon Valley (1-0) outscored the Bears 24-10 in the second quarter to take a commanding 41-23 lead into the break, behind strong play from junior point guard Sebastian Scott, who scored 19 of his 21 in the first half.
“The second part of the second quarter, our effort wasn’t where it should be,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya. “We’ve got to play all 32 minutes, whether we’re up 20 or down 20.”
Mission did respond in the second half, coming out of the locker room with an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 10, with Knight scoring the first six of the third quarter as part of his team-high 20. SRV broke the run with a Michael Santich and-one, but a 3-pointer with a friendly roll by Riordan transfer David Sonnier on the next possession cut it to 44-34.
Threes by Mission were few and far between on Wednesday night, as the Bears went just 5-of-26 from beyond the arc. Those shooting struggles, combined with 19 turnovers, kept Mission from ever getting the deficit down to single digits. The Wolves finished the third up 11, and with a 3-pointer by junior Pat Deely, a varsity player since his freshman year, the lead grew to 16 and got as high as 17 before both teams emptied the benches in the final minutes.
The Mission reserves were outscored 27-5, as the bench was largely depleted with four members of the Bears’ roster playing football and a fifth injured. In fact, Zelaya only rotated between seven players until the final two minutes.
For now, Knight, Sonnier and Jaraughn Torno, who saw occasional minutes of the bench last year, will be needed to step into major leadership roles as this young Mission team finds its identity.
“We lost nine guys from last year, and many of those guys were loud,” Zelaya said. “Ben’s the last one left from the state team, and he’s going to have to lead us. He’s going to figure it out, and we’re going to be fine.”
Like many of Zelaya’s teams, this group is undersized, but the Bears were only out-rebounded 39-30 and even held a 13-11 advantage on the offensive glass. With a better shooting performance, they could have been the dominant rebounding team.