By Bonta Hill
After losing four starters from last season’s Academic Athletic Association championship team, Mission High School head coach Arnold Zelaya knew early on that the Bears would go through some growing pains.
With the Bears’ tough non-league schedule not letting up, Mission’s comeback attempt fell short against visiting Piedmont in a 59-54 loss on Monday.
In the end, Mission (0-4) couldn’t overcome 31 turnovers and also had to play without starting senior forward Travis Price-Moku, who missed the game to take SATs.
“Turnovers are killing us, and it’s hard when you have four senior starters who left,” Zelaya said. “None of these guys have any varsity minutes under their belt.”
Sophomore Matt Ching led the Highlanders (2-0) with 20 points and Max Elliott powered Piedmont in the post with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
“The real key was we finally figured out how to beat the press, at least to the point [where] we got it in [Ching’s] hands,” said Piedmont head coach Chris Lavdiotis. “We didn’t give Matt a rest and he’s a tough kid with a lot of guts. He was great tonight.”
The game got off to a slow start, as fans saw both teams struggle with turnovers and poor shooting. Mission shot 3-of-14 in the first quarter and Piedmont wasn’t much better as they shot 3-of-14, and the score was tied at 6-6.
Piedmont would pull out of the funk, however, and closed the first half on a 14-4 run, shooting 8-of-18 in the second quarter to go into halftime leading 27-16.
“We’re still getting to know each other [on the court] and it’s going to take some time,” said Mission sophomore guard Kevin Murray, who led the Bears with 16 points. “We got to pick up the chemistry.”
After the Highlanders increased their lead to 35-22 in the third quarter, momentum swung the Bears way when Piedmont guard Miller Lyssikatos was called for a technical after taunting Mission’s Antoine Porter.
Porter would hit four consecutive free throws and after a three-pointer by Jaleel Stancil, the Bears got within 35-29 and seemed to be clicking.
Lavdiotis called a timeout to settle down his team, as well as a frenzied Mission crowd, and the Highlanders responded by closing the quarter out up 46-37.
“I told the team to just keep their poise and they did it,” Lavdiotis said. “We told them that they had to play through runs and they were problems solvers and figured it out.”
Mission got within four in the last 30-seconds, but it was too late to prevent them from dropping their fourth straight game to start the season.
The schedule doesn’t get easier for the Bears as they take on Bellermine on Wednesday in the Fukushima Tournament at Independence High School in San Jose. Still, Zelaya has no regrets in scheduling the stiff non-league competition for his young team.
“I knew we would take our lumps and I [wanted] to see how they would react to tough competition,” Zelaya said. “We’ve only been together for two weeks, but the effort is there. We just have to keep coming.”
Kevin Murray – 16
Antoine Porter – 15
Shaquille Fisher – 12
Laron Davis – 6
Davonte Gaines – 4
Matt Ching – 20
Max Elliott – 14
Miller Lyssikatos – 11
Andy Slabough – 8
Ilan Bernstein – 4