The weather and other circumstances resulted in the No. 1 ranked Mt. Shasta High School boys basketball team going on the road to open the playoffs at No. 9 Hamilton Saturday afternoon.
As in all 10 of their league games and most of their other games this season, the Bears were unstoppable. They defeated Hamilton 81-36, improved to 27-1 for the season, and advanced to host a Division 5 semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 20, against No. 4 Williams.
That semifinal winner will play either No. 2 Durham or No. 3 Modoc in the section championship game Friday at Butte College in Oroville.
By most standards, Hamilton wasn’t really a playoff caliber team this season after going 0-9 in the Mid-Valley League and 5-20 overall. But Hamilton did defeat No. 8 Biggs, 56-46, in the only Division 5 first round game last Wednesday in Biggs.
The Bears, who haven’t lost a league game in two years and are the overwhelming favorites to win a second consecutive NSCIF Division 5 title, took control of Saturday’s game in the opening minutes.
Kole Riccomini started the onslaught by making 2 three-point baskets in a row. Then Kaden Riccomini made a pair of threes.
In the time it takes to say “it doesn’t really matter where this game was played, the result was going to be the same,” the Bears had a 16-3 lead that grew to 26-8 by the end of the first quarter.
Even with starting senior Tristan Ellerbe unable to play because of an ankle injury, coach Cliff Blakely was substituting freely before the quarter ended.
The Bears lengthened an already large lead with a 29-point third quarter.
Kole Riccomini finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals, Kaden Riccomini had 7 points and 6 rebounds, Jett Snure had 12 points, and 7 rebounds, and sophomore Kekai Ferguson’s 11 points were his high for the season and included 3 three-pointers.
Kody Bauman added 6 points and 5 rebounds, Nolan Johnson 4 points and 6 rebounds, and Blakely said Jackson May had his best all-around game of the season with 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
Like a growing number of modern-day basketball teams, Hamilton mostly shot from beyond the arc, but made only 8 of its 39 three-point attempts against the Bears. From closer range, they were 5 for 10 on two-point shots, according to stats provided by Bears coach Cliff Blakely.
The Bears were originally scheduled to host Hamilton Friday night, and for most of the day the game was still on despite some snow falling. Friday afternoon the game was postponed.
Blakely said staffing was an issue over the holiday weekend for MSHS to host the game Saturday or Monday. They had an option to host on Tuesday, which would have meant playing a back-to-back the next day. At that point, Blakely said the Bears agreed to play the game Saturday at Hamilton.
The Bears are familiar with semifinal opponent Williams from last year’s playoff opener, won by Mount Shasta in Mount Shasta, 60-48.
Blakely said he saw Durham (18-9) defeat Williams (15-10) in a close low-scoring game earlier this month, 35-34.
Williams also played two close games against Hamilton in January, winning 52-51 and 47-41.
Both Williams and Durham play a physical style of basketball, according to Blakely, with Williams focusing on getting the ball inside, especially to 6-foot-4, 290 pound senior Anthony Davalos.
The Bears defeated Durham in mid-January in Mount Shasta, 82-37, and they defeated No. 3 seed Modoc (19-6) twice in league, 61-43 and 67-43.
For this remarkable season, the Bears have outscored their opponents in 28 games by an average margin of 72-42.
Blakely said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Modoc defeat Durham in the other semifinal, but he said the Bears players mostly think Durham will win.
Tristan Ellerbe is expected to be back on the court for the Bears this week, according to the coach.