“Finally” was one of the feelings expressed by the Mount Shasta Bears after they defeated Colusa, 66-56, to win the Northern Section Division 5 boys championship Friday afternoon at Butte College.
“It feels good, but we really wanted it for Cliff,” junior Kole Riccomini said of coach Cliff Blakely. “We really wanted to get him one.”
Juniors Kaden Riccomini and Nolan Johnson and senior Anthony Gore made similar comments about their coach in the afterglow of Mount Shasta’s first boys section basketball championship in more than 20 years.
“Finally got that thing! Woohoo!” Blakely exclaimed after the post-game ceremony and team photo op with their 2018 NSCIF Championship plaque.
Blakely’s Mount Shasta teams had reached at least the section semifinal round five of his six years at the helm, and they lost the only other time they made it to the final, in 2014. He also had some close calls in the section tournament as the head coach at McCloud High School in the 1990s.
Now, after reaching their goals of winning Shasta Cascade League and section championships, the Bears will take their 26-3 record into the Northern California bracket of the state playoffs.
It took a while for the top-seeded Bears to get going Friday against No. 2 Colusa (24-5), a team that has good size, quick guards, and can get hot from long range. The RedHawks caused some early turnovers with their press and got some easy baskets in transition.
But the Bears started to figure it out late in the second quarter, caught Colusa late in the third quarter, and finished the game with a 21-11 run in the final period.
Kole Riccomini scored 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and was the Bears’ recipient of the NSCIF Sportsmanship Award that was presented by MSHS Athletic Director Mariah Goodrich-Jones after the game.
Kole and brother Kaden combined to score all 21 of the Bears’ points in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been wanting to do this, and finally got it,” said Kaden, who was a freshman phenom on the Bears’ team that lost by 4 points at Colusa in a section semifinal game two years ago. “Cliff told us earlier in the week that in previous years Mount Shasta teams were just happy getting here. We’ve been wanting to get here and expected to have a chance to win – and we put it all together.”
Kole went 9 for 9 on free throw attempts in the fourth quarter and a perfect 10 for 10 for the game. As a team, Mount Shasta was 13 for 14 on free throws, while Colusa was 4 for 14.
Blakely said 6-foot-6 junior Kody Bauman had probably his best game of the season. He scored 17 points including a slam dunk and another basket on a shot from above the rim that wasn’t quite a dunk. Bauman capped an 18-8 third quarter run with a three-pointer from the corner that finally put the Bears on top, 45-43. He also had a good game rebounding.
Kaden Riccomini scored 8 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of steals that he took all the way for lay-ins. That was part of an 11-1 run that gave the Bears a 58-51 lead with just over 4 minutes to play.
Kole scored the other 7 points during that run on a lay-in, two free throws, and a three-point play off another lay-in.
“They kept pressing, and once we got by that, their big guys were kind of slow,” Kole said of the Bears’ ability to take it to the hoop in the second half.
Mount Shasta’s bench, cheerleaders and cheering section erupted after Colusa called a timeout following Kaden’s second steal and lay-in.
The RedHawks then cut the lead to 3 at 58-55 with 2:25 to play. But it was all Bears after that and – as they did in their semifinal win over Trinity two days earlier – starters came out of the game before it ended to a huge ovation.
Senior guard Anthony Gore picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter while dribbling and came out of the game, but only briefly. He returned less than a minute into the fourth quarter and played the rest of the way without fouling out.
Ronnie Knight, a 6-foot-4 senior, scored 6 points and gave the Bears some inside strength against a big Colusa team, as did 6-3 senior Dillon Ward. Knight fouled out while trying to take a charge with 1:05 to play and the Bears up by 5.
Junior Nolan Johnson added a three-pointer in the first half; juniors Gavin Paisley, Tristan Ellerbe, and Kyle Handshy and senior Ernie Maumasi came off the bench; and junior Joe Summers was a vocal leader on the bench.
As has been the case all season, good defense helped propel the Bears, who held Colusa to 10 points under its scoring average.
“Cliff’s whole mentality is defense first and build off that,” said Nolan Johnson.
Colusa was 4 for 20 on three-point attempts, scored just 23 points in the second half, and 6-foot-8 senior Tylor Gerrard finished with just 6 points for the game.
The RedHawks’ leading scorer, 5-10 guard Conner Saso, had 11 of his 19 points by half time. Another Colusa big, Gerry Moreno, scored 8 of his 14 points in first quarter.
The Bears knew coming into the game that Colusa’s 6-5 senior Will Kalisuch could light it up from way beyond the three-point arc.
Early in the game, according to Blakely, Mount Shasta started with a man-to-man defense because of concerns about Kalisuch and Gerrard. But the Bears trailed by 9 points with 2 minutes to play in the first half and started having more success with a zone defense.
Kalisuch finished with just 9 points on 3 for 13 shooting from long range – many of those shots from many feet outside the arc. That was a far cry from the 6 for 12 he made on long shots when the Bears lost at Colusa two years ago.
“This is a good group,” Blakely said of the Bears. “They’re all good kids and get along well. They work hard every day, and in the summer time also. All but a couple of these guys have been at it since June – and a lot of them will be back.”
The Bears have shown an ability when things aren’t going well to “wake up” as Gore put it. They flipped that switch in their 86-59 semifinal win over Trinity after falling behind 12-4.
They started to get it going late in the first half against Colusa when Bauman made a jumper, got fouled, missed the free throw, and Kaden Riccomini scored on a put-back to get the Bears within 3 points.
After Kalisuch hit a long three in the closing seconds of the half, Colusa was on top, 33-27.
At half time, Blakely told the Bears “he knew we could come back and win,” Kaden Riccomini said. “We weren’t scared about being down in the third quarter.”
“It’s crazy,” Gore said after the game. “I wanted this for my senior year. We wanted it for our coach. It’s his first section championship. It feels good to get him one.”