This is not a tall team by any means.
The Mission High School basketball team, located in the heart of San Francisco, has no one standing higher than 6-foot-5 and it boasts a host of players under 6-foot. But the Bears compete with an up-tempo fury, and on Friday afternoon at Golden 1 Center, they also made history well beyond their 82-75 overtime victory against Villa Park.
In taking the CIF State Division III championship, Mission became the first San Francisco city public school to win a state basketball title; it was just the second to reach a state final.
This is a big deal for coach Arnold Zelaya, who grew up in the city and has mentored many players from the rough streets of the region, including Potrero Hill and Hunter’s Point, with school and hoops a positive outreach.
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“We’ve always been undersized from the head coach on down,” Zelaya said with a laugh. “We’re vertically challenged but get after it. This is a forever thing (to win a title).”
Niamey Harris scored 31 points and Jayden Foston 21 for Mission, which ended with a 24-game winning streak to finish 35-1.
D-III girls, Rosary Academy 62, Campolindo 45 – Katherine Goostrey scored 26 points and Rebekah Obinma had 12 points and 17 rebounds to lift the Royals of Fullerton to the championship over the Cougars of Moraga.
Fresh off of 46-point effort in a Northern California championship win, Haley Van Dyke scored 22 on a frustrating 9-of-37 shooting for Campolindo, coached by Art Thoms III, the son of 1970s Raiders defensive lineman Art Thoms, an assistant coach with the Cougars.
D-V boys, Rolling Hills Prep 47, St. Francis 46 – Chris Koon scored his team’s final two baskets and finished with 13 points, and coach Harvey Kitani won his first D-V championship after winning two during a storied 35-year coaching run at Fairfax of Los Angeles in beating the Sharks of Watsonville.
Kitani, in his first year at Rolling Hills, became just the second boys coach to win a state championship at different schools (Frank Allocco did so with Northgate and De La Salle).
Kitani is so superstitious he made sure Rolling Hills closely followed the protocol of his Fairfax teams in 2004 and 2007 that won D-I titles in 2004 and 2007 at Arco Arena. The winner of 802 games, Kitani took Rolling Hills to Buca di Beppo to eat on Thursday night and had his coaches on Saturday morning feed on the same sort of turkey bagel sandwiches as last decade.
“It feels just as good as any of the others,” Kitani said of the wins and eats.
D-V girls, Eastside College Prep 63, Rollings Hills Prep 40 – Zion Gabriel scored 26 points with a record shooting display to supplant her NBA idol in powering the Panthers of Palo Alto past the Huskies of San Pedro for the title.
A 5-4 sophomore guard, Gabriel made eight 3-pointers, a state-championship game record for either gender spanning all divisions in leading a state repeat. She bettered the boys record of seven set by Klay Thompson, now with the Warriors, when he led Santa Margarita past Sacramento 72-55 in the D-III finals at Arco Arena in 2008. The previous girls record was six by Mary Mott of Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo in 1995.
“Those are definitely some big names,” said Gabriel, who finished with a team-high 92 3s this season. “It’s amazing. Frankly, I feel a little overwhelmed.”
Eastside coach Donovan Blythe joked that he “was sort of disappointed she didn’t drop 10 3s” in the spacious arena.