When the Mission Bears take the court against Vanden in Fairfield Saturday night, they have the chance to be one win away from becoming the first San Francisco public school to ever win a state basketball championship.
Pressure? Sure. But the 33-1 Bears — riding a 22-game win streak, a 14-0 Academic Athletic Association regular season, and their third-straight city championship — seem up to it.
After a 15-year dry spell without a AAA title, Mission High has won seven of 10 since 2007 — six under head coach Arnold Zelaya — including capping the 2016-17 season with a crown March 3 by edging Lowell 41-40.
And last week, in a rare matchup of San Francisco public and private prep programs, Mission toppled No. 1 seed Saint Ignatius 65-55 to advance to the semifinals of the CIF State Boys Basketball Championship.
With the win, just two teams — the 30-3 Vanden Vikings, and the eventual Southern California champ — stand between the No. 4 seed Bears and a state title. The game is expected to draw a sold-out crowd, and Zelaya told SFBay both teams’ styles of play make the matchup a good one:
“It should be fun. These guys are fast — like us, and they’re long and athletic — like us. It should be an uptempo game, which should be fun to watch for fans. But it might drive me a little crazy.”
Mission will need strong games from standout senior guards 6-foot-2 Niamey Harris (15.2 ppg), 5-foot-9 Jayden Foston (13.3 ppg) and 5-foot-11 Jamion Wright (12.6 ppg) to become Northern California champions Saturday night.
Zelaya told SFBay his team’s outside shot would be their key to victory:
“We need to make 3’s to get Jamion and Jayden going out there so we can open up the driving lanes. If we can get some success outside, I think we will be fine.”
Saturday night’s winner will advance to the CIF Division III title game next Friday at 4 p.m. at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento against the winner of Colony (Ontario) and Villa Park. John Zlatunich, assistant commissioner of the Academic Athletic Association, said the opportunity Mission has is “pretty special”:
“I’m sure the kids are looking forward to playing put up a good fight — and coming out victorious.”
Even though history is in sight, the Bears are making sure not to get ahead of themselves. But senior guard Jamion Wright admits that a state title has been his goal since his freshman year:
“It would really mean a lot to leave that behind since I am a senior. That has been my goal since my freshman year, to try to win a state championship.”