By Jeremy Balan
Early on in their first-round matchup in the Crusader Classic, Mission High School appeared to be taking control of the game against host Archbishop Riordan.
The Bears opened up a 14-9 lead with just over a minute to go in the first quarter, but after a Jordan Dougherty basket cut the lead to 14-11, a seemingly innocuous last-second shot swung the momentum toward the Crusaders.
Off somewhat of a broken play, senior guard Aaron Anderson rose up for a straightaway 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the ball banked in to tie the game at 14-14.
“It was like our wake up-call,” said Riordan assistant coach Chris Fernandez, who served as head coach in the game, due to the absence of regular head coach Rich Buckner, who missed the game for personal reasons. “We realized, ‘Oh, it’s game time.’ I didn’t know how they were going to react to a different voice, and we were a little hesitant.”
A wake-up call wasn’t necessary for Anderson, who had his way with the Mission defense throughout and would go on to score a career-high 25 points in the game, leading Riordan to a 59-49 win on Thursday.
“In the first quarter, it was just a little slow,” Anderson said. “We were just trying to get into the game, so I had a feeling that I had to do something to push this team. The moment came at the right time and I took that opportunity.”
Other than the crucial 3-pointer, most of Anderson’s points came on slashing drives that yielded contested, but successful layups.
“We just have to stop the ball better. That’s the bottom line,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya. “I wasn’t upset with the effort, but Aaron killed us. He’s a hell of a ball player, but we were letting him go right down the middle of the court.”
Anderson also had a team-high seven rebounds, and showed signs of taking control of an offense which, prior to Thursday, had a lot of question marks after losing leading scorer Ivan Dorsey to graduation.
“It’s my senior year and I’m trying to push this team as far as I can,” Anderson said. “We want to send a message that we’re not a team to take lightly.”
Riordan carried a 28-25 lead into the half, but extended its lead to double-digits in the third quarter and held a 55-41 lead midway through the fourth.
Much of the Riordan run could be attributed to untimely Mission turnovers and an offense that looked out of sync at times. The Bears were mostly successful when they attacked the basket, but as the game progressed, they appeared to settle for jump shots.
Mission, like Riordan, has to replace a dynamic scoring threat, after losing standout guard Angelo Gulley, and may have gotten a glimpse of its future with an impressive performance from junior forward Shaquille Fisher.
On 8-of-12 shooting from the floor, Fisher had a team-high 18 points and game-high 10 rebounds. His specialty was a mid-range jump shot that Riordan struggled to defend.
“Shaquille has been playing his butt off,” Zelaya said. “He’s come a long way. I mean, he was playing on JV last year. He was not nearly the player he is now and it was pleasant to see him do it on a bigger stage.”
Without Fisher’s contributions, however, the rest of the Mission players shot just over 20 percent from the floor.
Riordan will advance to the championship bracket, where they will face Burlingame, which knocked the Crusaders out of the CIF-Central Coast Section Division III playoffs last season. Burlingame beat Righetti of Santa Maria 57-55 in overtime earlier on Thursday. Mission will face off against Righetti in the consolation bracket Friday.
Aaron Anderson – 25
Jordan Dougherty – 10
D.J. Harvey – 7
Adam Del Castillo – 6
Geru Mabrey – 4
Shaquille Fisher – 18
Jaleel Stancil – 10
Alec Tatum – 9
Antoine Porter – 6
Travis Price-Moku – 4