The Mount Shasta Bears are one win from a CIF Division V state title. The 33-1 Bears face Southern California one-seed Foothill (Bakersfield) at noon Friday at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center. (Photo courtesy of Eddie Saltzman)
State championship. It’s a lofty goal most teams place after League Title and Section Championship on the pecking order.
But for certain teams – those with the right mix of athletes, coaches, drive, determination and, perhaps, a little providence – the drive to be the last team standing in the state looms in the back of the mind.
Mount Shasta knew it’d be good heading into the 2018-19 season. The Bears had come off a 26-4 year in 2017-18 that saw them win the Northern Section Division V crown. But then the Bears drew an unusually high seed – a 15 seed many in the area thought was unfair under the CIF’s new competitive equity model – that resulted in a tough 58-56 road loss to San Francisco’s Urban.
The Bears responded with a season for the ages this year, blitzing through all Northern California competition to a 33-1 mark and a chance at an elusive state crown. All playoff coverage is presented by Redding Rancheria.
“We knew it was going be a good team and it was in the back of our minds that we could do something special,” senior forward Kaden Riccomini said after the Bears’ 80-56 NorCal final win over Dinuba.
But the focus, coach Cliff Blakely said was winning the section and at least one NorCal playoffs game, a feat which had eluded the Bears in the two previous seasons.
Mount Shasta, 33-1 and unbeaten in California, not only won a state playoff game, the Bears have reeled off four in a row to get to Friday’s Division V state title game against Foothill of Bakersfield at noon at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center. They enter the state title game riding a 28-game win streak.
“As the year went on, we realized this team is something special,” Riccomini said.
In order to bring home the title, the Bears must defeat the Division IV Trojans (with an enrollment around 2,000), a senior-laden team that went 23-11 with three players averaging double figures.
Edward Turner is the leader of the Trojans with the 6-foot-8 forward averaging 17.7 points per game and adding nearly 10 rebounds per night. He’s complemented by sophomore shooting guard Jaden Phillips, who drops more than 16 points per night and had connected on 60 shots from distance (a 37 percent shooter from range).
Add in 6-4 senior wing Elijah Seals and his 11.7 point average, Cesar Valdez and his 77 3-pointers and 6-6 rebound machine Warren Stingley (11 boards per night) and the Bears will their hands full.
But Mount Shasta didn’t go 33-1 by accident. The Bears are led by senior twins Kole and Kaden Riccomini. No stats are available on MaxPreps, but both Riccomini brothers have averaged better than 20 points per game during the postseason. Kaden Riccomini is the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Kole Ricomini is a slash point guard who is adept at hitting a jumper, knocking down a 3-pointer or attacking and finishing at the rim. Kaden Ricomini has a bulkier frame that’s built for pounding down low or pulling up and elevating for a mid-range jumper. However, he also has a pure stroke from range, as he hit a trio of 3-pointers in the Bears’ 19-2 third-quarter run that buried Dinuba on Tuesday. And as good a basketball player as Kaden is, he’s even better on the diamond and has signed to play baseball at UC Davis.
And while the focus might be on Kole and Kaden, the supporting cast is deep and more than capable of contributing big moments and big shots.
The Bears feature twin towers in seniors Kody Bauman and Jett Snure. Bauman, with the unmistakable giant afro, has a more polished game and it long and lanky with the ability to hit down low and step out for a shot at the elbow. Snure, who had a monster 12-point night against Dinuba, didn’t play last season and adds beef to the Bears’ lineup at 6-7, 215 pounds. He showed a deft touch around the rim vs. Durham in the Section finals. And with Bauman in foul trouble against Dinuba, Snure controlled the glass and finished around the rim for several key buckets.
The Bears also have captain Nolan Johnson, who hit a pair of big triples against Dinuba, and senior forward Tristan Ellerbe, who looks to be the emotional leader of the team. Ellerbe is deadly from the corner and will dribble-drive the baseline if the defense closes out haphazardly.
By The Numbers
• 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 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