With 16.7 seconds left on the clock Saturday night, Mission senior guard Niamey Harris stepped to the line and sunk the biggest two free throws of his standout career.
The Two-time Academic Athletic Association’s boys basketball Player of the Year finished with 23-points to seal a 72-68 victory for his Mission Bears, knocking off the No. 3 seed Vanden (Fairfield) Vikings to secure the Bears’ first-ever CIF Northern California basketball title.
With the win, Mission (34-1) will play Villa Park (28-6) of Orange County in the Division III final Friday at 4 p.m. at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Harris scored his team’s last five points to lead the Bears to victory. He was followed by fellow senior guards Jamion Wright, who chipped in 15, and Jayden Foston, who added 14.
It looked early as though it was going to be a breeze for the Bears. After scrappy on ball defense, the Bears would build and take a 14-point lead into halftime.
But winning a state title is never easy.
Half time stretched longer than usual, as both teams were sent back into their locker rooms while security scrambled to rearrange the over-capacity crowd around overflowing standing room only areas of the court.
Once order was resumed, the Bears went back to cruising along — until Vanden caught fire from the field and began to battle back.
Vanden (30-4) roared back in the third and fourth quarters, closing the third on a 15-2 run and continued the momentum into the final eight minutes.
The Vikings rallied all the way back from an 18-point deficit to close the gap to just one after senior guard Darrell Staley drained his fourth three-pointer of the night to make it 67-66 with 1:13 remaining.
On the next possession, Vanden got a stop and had a chance to take the lead. But Foston snagged a missed Staley three and fed Harris on the break for the and-1 layup. Harris converted the free throw to push the Mission lead to 70-66 with 32.8 seconds to play.
Vanden coach Micheal Holloway called timeout and drew up a play for a quick basket for senior Jemuarri Bailey to trim the score 70-68. Mission got the ball to Harris on the inbound, who was fouled and sank the two free throws with 17 seconds left to close out the night.
The Vikings were led by senior guard Phoenix Shackelford, who tried to led his team back in the fourth with driving acrobat finishes, but it still was not enough.
Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya told SFBay he was proud of the fight his kids showed:
“It feels great for these kids to win they have been fighting all year long. We don’t get enough respect because of our league and where we play, but we fought hard to the end. I am so proud of these guys.”
With this win, the Bears (34-1) became just the fourth San Francisco public school boys team to advance to a state championship. And the first since 2001.
And according to senior guard Jamion Wright, this win means San Francisco basketball is back on the radar:
“We were just trying to get SF back on the map. This win is a big deal for us and the city.”