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SACRAMENTO — One of the best stories this season, or any season, in Bay Area high school basketball completed a historic run Friday.
Mission-San Francisco, state basketball champions.
The Bears became the first public school from San Francisco to claim a state championship with a heart-pounding, gut-turning 82-75 overtime victory over Villa Park in the Division III boys title game at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Mission watched a seven-point lead dissolve in the final two minutes of regulation, then got motivational words from its star player before the extra session.
“Keep your heads up,” senior captain Niamey Harris said. “We haven’t lost this game. They’ve got to deal with us for four more minutes.”
Mission took charge in overtime against an opponent that had a height advantage at virtually every position, completing a 35-1 season that included a regional win at St. Ignatius.
When it ended, Harris followed through on something he thought about a day earlier.
The senior embraced coach Arnold Zelaya as a large contingent of Mission fans celebrated in the stands.
Harris finished with 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting and six steals. Jayden Foston had 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and Jamion Wright contributed 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
Mission shot 50.9 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range.
“I can’t believe it right now,” Harris said.
The Bears beat the odds all season, proving wrong those who assumed a San Francisco public school could not get this far, could not raise the state championship trophy.
“They fight for respect for public schools in San Francisco,” Zelaya said, noting some of the whispers he’d heard.
“Oh yeah, these guys had a decent preseason, but, but, but …”
“But we keep fighting,” Zelaya said. “We keep fighting. And 35-1, I guess, it’s going to be hard to top next year. These guys are a special group. They’re a scrappy group. I’ve been tough on them, and these guys know it. But it’s love. It’s compassion.”
After the big win, Mission principal Eric Guthertz noted how many messages he had already received.
“The mayor’s office, the ex-superintendent, the current superintendent’s office, every single high school principal, my 85-year-old father who graduated from Lowell and my father-in-law who graduated from San Mateo High School in the ’50s have all texted me,” Guthertz said. “This stuff is blowing up right now. It’s really a big deal for the City.
“My voice is gone. I feel like I played the game myself. I am a little old for that. My heart is still racing. I have been using my rally flag to wipe off the sweat. My daughter was in the audience. I kept smiling and waving at her. I saw tons and tons of old Mission students and families. It felt wonderful.”
Guthertz also acknowledged that it’s been quite a school year at Mission.
The state championship came six months after the school drew headlines when its football team, led by Harris, followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead by taking a knee during the national anthem.
Guthertz defended the team’s actions then and hasn’t changed now.
“I feel proud about them in both ways,” Guthertz said. “Whether they were taking a stand in something they believed in or winning this whole state tournament, to me that’s all beautiful and exactly what we want here at Mission High School. I couldn’t be more proud.”
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