Fifth-seeded M-A travelled to Merritt College on Saturday to match up with the fourth-seeded McClymonds High School Warriors in the second round of the Northern California State Championships. In a scrappy, hard fought battle, the Bears edged out on top, 57-53, despite some confusing officiating.

The Warriors came out strong in the first quarter, effectively slowing down the Bears’ usual quick-paced offensive with a tough full-court press. Senior Lucas Fioretti scored by driving into the paint for a lay up and sinking a midrange jump shot to start the Bears off. McClymonds was quick to answer, draining almost every perimeter shot to lead at the end of the first quarter 16-21.

During the second quarter, M-A got into foul trouble, with junior Eric Norton gaining his third foul halfway through the period. With Norton on the bench, junior Kai Winterling picked up the slack, swishing in a three-point shot off a pass from senior Christian Fioretti to bring the Bears within three points of the Warriors. McClymonds pulled ahead, capitalizing on bonus free throw shots, leading 25-31 at half.

The Bears came out hungry in the third quarter, going on a 7-0 run in the first two minutes. L. Fioretti drained a three and two free throws and Norton grabbed a board and took it across court for a dynamic lay up, giving the Bears their first lead of the game, 32-31. The Bears and Warriors went back and forth for the remainder of the period. Winterling led the Bears, driving, dishing, and shooting. At the end of the period, the game was tied 40-40 and M-A was back in foul trouble due to some questionable calls. Norton and L. Fioretti had 4 and 3 personal fouls respectively.

Norton fouled out two minutes into the quarter and Winterling stepped up once again, draining a clutch three to put M-A back in the lead, 45-44 with 5:20 left to play. The teams fought back and forth evenly, with Winterling and senior Blake Henry scoring for M-A. Bears head coach Mike Molieri called a timeout with 3:11 left to play, the Bears leading 49-48. Winterling took the ball to the hoop as the shot clock buzzer sounded, giving the Bears a three point advantage 51-48. From this point on, McClymonds couldn’t get the lead back.

Both Norton and L. Fioretti had fouled out and the Bears suffered from double bonus— McClymonds got two free throws for every foul— yet the Bears rallied for the last two minutes of play. Junior Will Perrone, sophomore Bradley Stillman, Henry, Winterling, and C. Fioretti controlled the game for the Bears. Perrone contributed two scrappy baskets in the paint to keep M-A’s lead. With 3.6 seconds, Henry was fouled and went to the line shooting 1 for 1, the Bears leading 55-53. Henry drained both free throws, securing the game 57-53.

Molieri explained the difference in M-A’s performance between the first and second half: “In the second half, I thought we were a lot more patient. In the first half, we were sailing for too many shots. I told the guys that ‘we average 11 threes per game, so quit shooting every three that you guys see and play a lot more patient.’ That was a big difference.” He also attributed the Bears’ win to Winterling: “Kai Winterling was huge. He picked up the game.”

Henry concluded, “Going into halftime we knew we were down by six, but it wasn’t that much. We knew they were making all their threes in the first half and we knew if we just played better defense they’d stop making their shots.” He shared his thought process before nailing his final two points: “At the end [of the game], I was just thinking that I’ve shot a lot of other free throws and I just went up to the line like it was practice.”

Winterling explained his role coming off the bench and energizing the Bears: “I think that the biggest part of coming off the bench is playing with confidence and that’s something that I do well, even if the results aren’t always the best. Tonight, once I saw a couple shots go down… the momentum kept building, good things kept happening. Mostly I’m happy that the seniors get to have another game and that our run in Norcals is gonna continue.”

Congrats to the Bears for winning their first NorCal game since 2007!

Be sure to support the Bears as they continue onto NorCal regional finals against first seeded Bellarmine College Prep at Bellarmine next Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

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