By winning the Northern California regional championship against Dinuba on March 5 and taking part in Friday’s state championship game, the Bears went one step further than the 1986 McCloud Loggers, which was the last south county team to get that far.

Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center was transformed into Gold-n-Blue Center Friday afternoon when the Mount Shasta Bears came to town. Everywhere you turned was a Siskiyou County fan supporting the boys who defied the odds to make it all the way to the CIF Division V State Championships.

Although the team, led by seniors Kole and Kaden Riccomini, Kody Bauman, Nolan Johnson, Jett Snure and Tristan Ellerbe ultimately fell to Foothill – a Bakersfield-area high school of more than 2,000 students – by a score of 78-66, the experience playing in a live telecast game on a professional court will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

By winning the Northern California regional championship against Dinuba on March 5 and taking part in Friday’s state championship game, the Bears went one step further than the 1986 McCloud Loggers, which was the last south county team to get that far.

Bears coach Cliff Blakely was an assistant coach to Dan Bringle on that Logger team, which featured the Riccomini twins’ uncle Joel DeBortoli and Blakley’s brothers Aaron and Douglas, as well as his nephew Terrence Pugh.

Friday’s game was the last for Blakely after coaching the Bears for seven seasons. During that time, his teams have a 163-41 overall record – a .799 winning percentage. The Bears have won five league championships in those seven years, reached at least the semi-final round of the section playoffs the past six years in a row, won back-to-back section championships in the past two years, and have now added this year’s Nor Cal regional victory.

Blakely said he’s proud of his players, who “put in a ton of work” that paid off in the biggest way.

Friday should have been declared a town-wide holiday as Mount Shasta residents headed south to Sacramento in droves. Two cheer buses full of blue and gold-clad fans made the journey to show their support, including cheerleaders and the drum line, directed by Greg Eastman. For the 38 students remaining at school on Friday, the game was broadcast live on a big screen.

McCloud and Weed High Schools did the same. The Cougars even wished the Bears – usually their fiercest competition – good luck on their Facebook page.

“Thank you for representing SUHSD, the SCL and Siskiyou County. Go Bears! Enjoy this exciting experience and opportunity,” the Cougars wrote.

“Basketball Flu” was an absolute epidemic at Sisson and Mount Shasta Elementary schools as students convinced their parents to take a long weekend to see their role models play at Golden 1.

The Bears baseball team, which was competing in a tournament in Colusa, arranged their games far enough apart on Friday so they could make it to Sacramento in time to support their friends and teammates.

A large cheering section sat behind one of the baskets, a veritable sea of blue and gold, waving signs of support and cheering as loud as their lungs would allow.

Before the Bears left for Sacramento on Thursday, they were treated to a good luck banner hung in the MSHS lobby, signed by Mount Shasta Elementary School students.

Countless fans watched the game on TV, broadcast live by NBC Sports California and MSHS freshman Linnea Dolf slayed the National Anthem prior to tipoff.

Although the team was visibly disappointed at the conclusion of the game – it was only the second loss of the season for the Bears, who went a Northern Section record 33-2, – Kaden Riccomini accepted the CIF’s Pursuing Victory with Honor Award and the team scooped up second place trophy before leaving the court while the Trojans celebrated their second state championship title and their first since 1988.

Foothill’s coach, Wesley Davis III, had some kind words for the Bears during the post-game press conference.

“We knew they were tough, hard-nosed guys,” said Davis. “When you come from a small community, you wear that like a chip on your shoulder. They’re proud to say they’re from Mount Shasta and we knew that. There’s a reason they’d only lost one game. We knew that coming in. We knew that even if we got up, these young men were going to keep fighting and they did that. It was an awesome basketball game.”

Many fans called attention to the CIF’s “competitive equity” model, introduced in 2013 to replace their enrollment-based formula of the past, which led to private schools dominating every division. Instead, the competitive equity model pitted the Bears against the Trojans – a Division IV school with a much larger pool of athletes to select from.

Going into Friday’s game, the Bears were riding a 28 game winning streak. Seeded No. 1 in the north state, the Bears cut through the CIF Div. V bracket like butter, with the exception of Eastside College Prep of Palo Alto, which they ended up beating handily in overtime.

Through most of the playoffs, Mount Shasta put away their opponents with third quarter surges. Foothill turned the tables on the Bears Friday, outscoring them 22-13 in the third quarter.

Foothill on Friday went up as many as 18 points during the course of the game, yet the Bears were generally able to keep pace, even going ahead in the first half and mostly staying within 10 points of their tough opponent.

The Bears trailed 38-33 at halftime, with Kaden Riccomini scoring 10 points and Kole putting up 7 points and collecting 3 rebounds.

Their defense did a good job on Edward Turner, the 6’8” high-scoring Trojan center, holding him to 12 points for the game.

Kaden Riccomini provided most of the second-half Bear offense, hitting a couple of three-pointers and scoring 19 points. Tristan Ellerbe scored 6 points in the half.

Kaden had a game-high 29 points, hitting three 3-pointers. Kole Riccomini added 13 points and Kody Bauman scored 10.

Tristan Ellerbe had 8 points, Jett Snure had 4 points and 6 rebounds, and Nolan Johnson scored 2 points.

Even in the final quarter, the Bears would not let the game get out of hand. They worked to cut the Trojans’ 14-point lead entering the fourth to 9 and never stopped working.

At that point, Blakely said he thought there was still time and a chance his team could pull off an upset.

“But a couple of turnovers hurt real bad and a couple of easy shots, well, not easy shots, but makeable shots that didn’t fall. Would’ve been nice if they went in,” he said in the post-game press conference.

The Bears’ starting rotation of six players are all seniors, so putting together a strong team for next year with a new coach will be a challenge. Kyle Handshy will graduate, but the team brings back underclassmen Jackson May, Mack Wolmar, and Kekai Ferguson.

Blakely said earlier in the season that he’d be happy winning a first round game in the state playoffs. Mount Shasta far exceeded that goal.

And although Blakely said he doesn’t quite understand the competitive equity system, he and his team never complained and were rewarded with a season for the history books.

An experience of a lifetime

Kaden Riccomini said making it to the state championship is something he’s dreamed of doing for years and called the experience “unreal.”

“And to experience it with this group of guys was awesome,” he said. “Most of us have been playing together for a long time and getting to go through this with them was amazing. Everyone supported each other and we all got along really well. I think that was a big part of the success we had this year. We had a great group of teammates led by a great coach in Cliff.”

Kaden said the Bears have played in some nice gyms, “but nothing compares to getting to play in an NBA arena” with bright lights and a giant scoreboard.

Since he is a Kings fan, running out onto the court was the most memorable moment of the overall experience for Kaden.

Johnson, one of the team’s captains, agreed that walking out onto such a huge court will be a moment that will stick in his mind for the rest of his life.

“I never imagined when I was a freshman or a sophomore that I would be a team captain on a state level varsity team,” said Johnson, who plans to play baseball next year. The state championship game will most likely be his last on the basketball court, he said.

Snure, who isn’t sure yet if basketball is in his collegiate future, advised youngsters who look up to the Bears to “never be satisfied with just winning.”

Bauman said it has always been a dream of his to play on an NBA court. He said it is important “never to give up ... you never truly lose until you give up.” He also advised young players to “work on the little fundamentals because those are what make the big things happen.”

Bauman said he plans to play basketball next year, but he’s not yet sure where.

Kole Riccomini called the game “a once in a lifetime experience.”

As for the amazing support shown by young Mount Shasta fans – including his younger brother, Kellen, who represented Sisson and the Siskiyou County Athletic League as a sixth grader in Sunday’s Northern Section Jr. High All Star Basketball Showcase in Chico – Kole said it “was nice to show all the little kids that always come to our games that things like this are possible if you’re willing to put the work in.”

“Just keep working,” Kaden added. “It took us a lot of hard work to get to where we got but we showed that it’s something that can be done.”

Kole thanked Blakely and said the season wouldn’t have been possible without him. “After his youngest son graduated he didn’t need to coach but he stuck around. It was nice to give hime a great season like this.”

Connecting the past with the present

The spiderweb of connections between the McCloud Loggers’ 1986 success and the 2018-19 Bears team is complex and fascinating.

That ‘86 team included Tim Cain, father of Kacey Cain, a former Bear who just completed her sophomore season at College of the Siskiyous. Kacey Cain’s all-state jersey was recently added to the COS Wall of Fame, which also features the all-state jerseys of Joel DeBortoli and his sisters, Kristen and Noelle.

In 2017, Kristen (DeBortoli) Riccomini (Kaden and Kole’s mother) was the first COS athlete to be inducted into the California Community College Athletic Hall of Fame.

Joel DeBortoli played one year at COS, three years at the University of San Francisco and 13 years of professional basketball, 12 of them in Europe and the Middle East.

Like his uncle, Kaden Riccomini has signed to play college ball – baseball – pitching at UC Davis next year. Kaden will leave Mount Shasta High as the Bears’ all-time leading career scorer in basketball and the No. 2 all-time leading scorer in Northern Section history.

Kaden passed Jerry Brown to become the Bears’ all-time leading scorer earlier this season. Jerry Brown was a three-time league MVP during his Bears playing career, then played at San Diego State and one year of professional basketball on the European tour. He has been the head coach for the Shasta College women’s basketball team since 1994.

Another DeBortoli – Joel, Kristen and Noelle’s cousin Randy – was a member of the 1982-83 Weed High School basketball team coached by Mike Carpine that reached the semi-final round of the Northern California regional playoffs. He went on to star as a basketball player for one year at COS and three years at UC Davis.

Cliff was the Bears’ coach when his sons Daylon and Preston were both league MVPs. Daylon then played two years at COS and now plays for Lawrence Technological University in Michigan. Preston is on the basketball roster at Yuba College, where MSHS grad Doug Cornelius has been the head coach for 17 years.

Cornelius was among the many Mount Shasta alumni who were in the audience Friday watching their alma mater compete for a state title.

Steve Gerace, who has been covering Siskiyou County sports since the early 1980s – including the 1986 Loggers – contributed to this report.

Going into Friday’s game, this is how the two teams stacked up

Foothill Trojans 23-11

• 2,200 points scored, 2,007 allowed

• 65 point per game scoring average

• 59 points against per game

• 12-game win streak

• 2-1 in overtime games

• Highest game scoring – 92

• Lowest game scoring – 40 (a loss)

• 17 wins by double-digits

Mount Shasta Bears 33-1

• 2,484 points scored; 1,510 allowed

• 73 point per game scoring average

• 44 points against per game

• 28-game win streak

• 1-0 in overtime games

• Highest game scoring – 92

• Lowest scoring game – 57 (a win)

• 30 wins by double-digits

State Championships by the numbers

Foothill 78, Mount Shasta 66

Foothill – 20, 18, 22, 18 – 78

Mount Shasta – 18, 15, 13, 20 – 66

Foothill (24-1) – Davis 2, Valdez 8, Stingley 9, Turner 12, Seales 22, Phillips 25.

Mount Shasta (33-2) – Johnson 2, Snure 4, Ellerbe 8, Bauman 10, Kole Riccomini 13, Kaden Riccomini 29.

3-pointers: Foothill: 3 Phillips, Valdez (2); Mount Shasta: 5 Bauman, Kole Riccomini, Kaden Riccomini (3).