By Bonta Hill
In one of the most thrilling Academic Athletic Association boys basketball championships in recent memory, Washington High School broke its 29-year title drought in dramatic fashion.
With 1,300 raucous spectators at Kezar Pavilion, Washington won their first league championship since 1982, winning a thrilling 75-72 contest over the defending champion Mission.
“It’s a great feeling to win one [for] Washington. There have been a lot of teams to wear a Washington uniform and never get as far as we did,” said Washington head Jolinko Lassiter. “This is not only for the school, but for the alumni as well. This championship is for them, as well as all our supporters.”
After splitting two meetings during the regular season, the rubber match provided plenty of highlights throughout the night.
Blocked shots, clutch shooting, and Mission’s Gione Edwards improbable basket while he was sitting, all made up one of the most scintillating games this season.
But the Eagles will be enjoying the following weeks just a little bit more, as they got 27 points, seven rebounds, and a 14-for-16 performance at the free throw line from standout senior guard Brenden Glapion.
He wasn’t alone in the party, as the Eagles got a double-double from senior forward LeVander Moore, who finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds, and four steals, while Johnny Fu chipped in 15 points off the bench for the Eagles.
“It was a great team win tonight. Johnny, LeVander, everyone contributed,” Glapion said. “All the hard work, the sprints, waking up at 7 a.m. for practice…This feels great, just great.”
Things heated up in the second frame after the game stood at 10-10 after the first eight minutes of action.
Mission went on a 10-2 run sparked by sophomore guard Antoine Porter, who scored eight of his team-high 27 points during the spurt that put the Bears up 28-26 with two minutes left in the half.
But Washington closed the half on a 10-3 run capped by Moore’s layup off a Glapion assist with two seconds left that sent the Eagles soaring into the half up 36-31.
The Eagles rode that momentum into the third frame and took their biggest lead of the game on a Glapion three-pointer that gave Washington a 45-35 lead early in the quarter.
Just when it seemed Washington was getting into a comfort zone, Mission finished the third period on a furious run.
A 12-2 run in the last three minutes of the quarter knotted the contest up at 53-53, as Porter scored five straight, including an NBA-range three-pointer that set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter.
“In that run, we were just trying to stay composed and run our offense,” Porter said. “We knew they had foul trouble, so we just attacked them hard.”
Mission would take their first lead of the second half off an Porter jumper, giving the Bears a 62-60 lead with 3:50 left.
Washington stayed composed though, and went on a 6-0 run to recapture the lead. Then, up 75-68 with 40 seconds left, it seemed the championship was in the bag for the Eagles, but the defending champs didn’t quit.
A Porter three-pointer cut the lead to 75-72 with 30 seconds left and fouled Glapion, who hadn’t missed a free throw all night.
But Glapion missed both free throws, and Mission had a chance to send the game into overtime.
In a wild sequence, the Bears would miss a three and steal the ball back, to only turn it over by stepping out of bounds. But the Eagles again gave the Bears life, turning the ball over on the inbounds play with nine seconds left.
Mission’s last shot, a Porter three-pointer at the buzzer, fell short, and the celebrating began on the Washington side, as their students rushed the court, ready to embrace the newly-crowned champions.
“It was a fun game and it was meant to showcase the AAA, which happened for 32 minutes,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya. “I’m proud of my guys. They went hard [and] didn’t quit. But, we were sloppy, and Washington out-hustled us and outplayed us, and they deserve the championship.”
For Washington, the game will be remembered fondly in the Richmond for years to come.
“I’m speechless,” Moore said shaking his head. “It’s just a blur. It’s just amazing. It’s what sports is all about.”
Brenden Glapion – 27
LeVander Moore – 17
Johnny Fu – 15
Jeremy Jetton – 12
Two players tied with 2 points
Antoine Porter – 27
Gione Edwards – 13
Jaleel Stancil – 11
Alec Tatum – 9
Travis Price-Moku – 5