What happens when you’ve been beating everybody by an average of 30 points and then, in the biggest game of the season, your shots won’t fall in an unfamiliar gym and your defense is more porous than usual.
The Mount Shasta Bears answered that question with a 17-0 run to start the second half on the way to a 61-41 victory over Durham in Friday night’s Northern Section Division 5 championship game in Oroville.
Trailing 28-24 at half time, the Bears swiped and slashed their way to a second consecutive NSCIF title. They forced turnovers, blocked shots, made put-backs, converted fast breaks, and drove to the hoop in the third quarter, while mostly abandoning the three-point shots that wouldn’t drop in the first half.
As if they had gone through a superhero transformation in the locker room, the Bears outscored the Trojans 19-3 in the third quarter and 18-10 in the final period.
They improved their otherworldly overall record to 29-1 and were ready for more.
“None of us are done yet,” said Kaden Riccomini after the game. “We want to keep going and make a run in the state playoffs.”
Asked about maintaining their motivation during a season of one blowout win after another, Kole Riccomini said they had their sights set on winning a second section title and “hopefully make a run in the state playoffs.”
The twin brothers scored 14 points each in the second half and combined to score 47 of the Bears’ 61 points.
Just two days after they made 12 three-pointers in a 74-38 semifinal win over Williams in Mount Shasta, Kole scored a game-high 25 points Friday night and made the Bears’ only three-point basket against Durham early in the third quarter.
He and Kaden, post players Kody Bauman and Jett Snure and guards Nolan Johnson and Tristan Ellerbe – all seniors – all contributed to the second-half defensive effort.
“We needed to stop pouting and complaining about the officiating and get the ball inside more,” Bauman said of the half time talk.
“We realized we were better,” said Kole Riccomini of the trigger that ignited their second half blast. He said the game felt similar to last year's section championship win, when the they rallied from a 33-27 half time deficit to defeat Colusa, 66-56.
“We talked about getting more steals and taking easier shots,” said Kaden Riccomini, whose 22 points included a perfect 8 for 8 night from the free throw line, 6 of those in the fourth quarter.
Coach Cliff Blakely praised 6-foot-6 Bauman for helping the Bears stay as close as they were in the first half by grabbing “every defensive rebound.”
Snure, at 6-7, also gave the Bears a strong “presence in the paint,” according to Blakely.
When Snure banked a free throw in during their third quarter surge, he glanced at the MSHS student cheering section with a big smile on his face.
Snure scored 6 points, Ellerbe 4, Bauman 2, and sophomore Kekai Ferguson made 2 free throws late in the game.
Blakely said the larger and more open Butte College gym may have been a factor in the Bears’ poor shooting from long range.
Despite being down at the half, Blakely said, “We were confident at half time. It was one of those games that on paper or on maxpreps, we win, but you have to do it on the floor.”
The Bears beat Durham earlier in the season in Mount Shasta, 82-37.
With a large cheering section behind their bench and a bunch of MSHS students screaming their approval on the other side of the court, senior Kyle Handshy, junior Jackson May, and sophomores Ferguson and Mack Wolmar replaced starters in the final minutes.
The student cheering section briefly chanted “Back-to-Back.”
The Bears, who have been ranked at or near the top among California Division 5 teams for much of the season, hope they’ll have a home game in the first round of the state playoffs. The state brackets are expected to be released Sunday.