A typically close game Friday night between boys basketball rivals San Luis Obispo High School and Mission Prep marked the point of the season when wins mean just a little bit more and losses can be particularly painful.
A reminder that the playoffs are right around the corner.
That’s exactly the kind of atmosphere that oozed from the raucous crowd at a packed SLO High gym for the meeting between not only historic rivals that shared the PAC 8 title last season but also two teams now making a push for the postseason.
SLO High came into the game with a slim one-game lead on Mission Prep for third place in the newly minted Mountain League. Meanwhile, Mission Prep stepped onto enemy territory along with sophomore guard Assani Berkeley, who crossed lines in the rivalry before this season when he transferred after he and his mother alleged mistreatment during his freshman year at SLO High, with its playoff hopes hanging by a thread.
It was tight throughout Friday night, with Mission Prep taking a 30-26 lead at halftime and then 48-39 at the end of the third quarter. SLO High stormed back to cut the lead to 50-45 with 5:38 left, but Mission Prep was able to put the game on ice down the stretch to pull out a 52-52 victory to silence the home fans.
As it stands, Mission Prep (10-12, 3-3 Mountain League) and SLO High (15-8, 3-3) are tied for third place; they both trail Arroyo Grande (17-4, 5-1) and St. Joseph (19-3, 6-0) with six games left in the regular season. SLO High will play at Mission Prep in the teams’ season finale Feb. 6.
Here are five other story lines from girls and boys basketball to keep an eye on over the next three weeks.
For the last four years, the Mission Prep boys basketball team has won at least a share of the PAC 8 title. The Royals overcame a sluggish start last year, winning their final five games to share the title with San Luis Obispo.
This season, the team is off to another slow start despite Friday night’s big win.
The key contributors from last season’s run — Kyle Colvin, Parker Jones and Ander Villacana — were lost to graduation. Colvin averaged close to 30 points a game alone — no small thing for any coach to try to replace.
This year’s team has no defacto star like Colvin or Quinton Adlesh, but it has several players that can step up.
Emerging for Mission Prep are juniors Bryce Hilton and Max Rowley, brother of former Cal Poly guard Andy Rowley.
The Royals also gained San Luis Obispo transfer Berkeley, who helped the Tigers earn their first title since 2009 and the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs. Berkeley averaged 10 points a game as a freshman.
Each have led the Royals in scoring in various games over the year, but the scoring hasn’t translated into wins. If Mission Prep can get all three scoring at the same time, expect to see a run reminiscent of last season.
Eagles in title hunt
Arroyo Grande hasn’t won a division title since the 2011-2012 season. But they have been consistent, reaching the playoffs in every season since 2004-2005.
Arroyo Grande has won five straight since a 64-62 league-opening loss to St. Joseph, where key contributor Gage Gomez was injured for the final three minutes.
Seniors Bryan Smith, Caleb Whalen and junior Robert Hutchens have all proved to be capable scorers in Arroyo Grande’s typically balanced offense.
If the Eagles can stay healthy, they will likely stay in the hunt for the inaugural league title.
Mountain League girls race
The girl’s competition is fierce in the Mountain, with Arroyo Grande and Mission Prep tied for second place at 3-1, just a half game behind Righetti at 4-1. San Luis Obispo is 2-3, and dropped its last three league games to Paso Robles on Friday night, the Royals and Eagles. Paso is also 2-3.
Both losses for Arroyo Grande and Mission Prep came to Righetti, while the Tigers handed the Warriors their only loss.
Each of these teams features capable scorers, and any of them could take the title.
Here are some players to watch from these teams as the league season progresses: Ary Gonzales and Olivia Missler of Mission Prep, Kaiya Ellison and Jayci Bayne of Arroyo Grande, Lily Svetich and Anika Meyer of San Luis Obispo.
Boys Ocean League race
The boys Ocean League race is just as competitive. Morro Bay, Atascadero, Templeton and Nipomo are all neck and neck.
Morro Bay is 4-1, with a one-point win over Nipomo and only loss to Atascadero. Nipomo, 2-2 in league, also lost by two points to the Greyhounds, who are 4-1. Atascadero’s loss came to Templeton.
Templeton is also 4-1, with a loss to the Pirates.
Here are some players to keep an eye on as the league season unfolds: Morro Bay’s Daniel Hyun, Templeton’s Will Tedone, Atascadero’s Mitchell Carpenter and Nipomo’s AJ Gonzalez.
Titans’ hot start
The Nipomo girls are off to a hot start in Ocean League play with a 6-1 record, putting them just behind 8-0 Pioneer Valley, which handed the Titans their only league loss, 51-48.
Sophomore guard Clarissa Simonson had 20 points in the loss and has continued where she left off in the 2017-2018 season, when she made The Tribune’s All-County second-team.
Simonson isn’t the only player who can score for Nipomo. Senior Abbey Gutierrez, freshmen Kacie Slover and Leah Miller are each proven scorers at this point in the season. With such a young nucleus, Nipomo will be a force in the league for the foreseeable future.
The title will likely be decided when the Panthers and the Titans meet again on Jan. 29.