The Bears defeated first-seeded Bellarmine High School in the semi-finals of the Northern California State Championship on Tuesday, March 15. Earlier in the season, M-A fell to Bellarmine by one point on a buzzer-beating layup. Tonight the Bears were out for redemption, topping the Bells 50-46.

The Bells came out strong, going on a 4-0 run to to start the game. Senior Christian Fioretti drained a three-point shot two minutes into the game to start off a 8-0 run for the Bears. Junior Eric Norton added a three and senior Blake Henry hit a jump shot from the paint to give the Bears a four point lead. Junior Kai Winterling contributed an explosive drive to end the quarter with the Bears up 12-9.

Henry dominated the paint during the second the quarter, grabbing rebounds on both ends of the court and finishing shots. With Henry’s power and the help of M-A’s trio of guards, senior Lucas Fioretti, C. Fioretti, and Norton, the Bears pulled ahead 24-18 at the end of the half.

Henry opened the third quarter by tapping in Norton’s missed shot, creating the Bears’ biggest lead of the game, 26-18. Bellarmine’s Angelo Athens answered Norton, swishing in two free throws. L. Fioretti pulled up for a midrange jump shot during a transition and Norton followed with a three to give the Bears a seven point advantage. The Bears took the ball out of bounds with 3.6 seconds remaining in the quarter. L. Fioretti drained a long buzzer beating three to end the quarter ahead, 38-29.

The Bells went on a 5-0 run to open up the fourth quarter and the Bears quickly got into foul trouble, closing the game to one point: 39-38 Bears, with 5:10 to play. Winterling picked up momentum for the Bears with a three-point play and two free throws to give M-A the lead: 44-38. Bellarmine fought back, closing the gap to 48-46 with Athens’ clutch free throws.

The Bears called a timeout with 29.7 seconds to play and 23 seconds on the shot clock. Norton was fouled with 12.1 remaining and went to the line, making one of two shots, creating a three point lead for M-A. Bellarmine grabbed the rebound and Athens raced down the court for a three point shot attempt. Henry drew a foul with 1.9 seconds to go and swished in a key free throw to win the game 50-46.

With this victory, M-A will head to Northern California State Finals this Saturday for the first time since 1989. The Bears will face off against seventh-seeded Berkeley High School, whom they defeated 58-54 earlier this season.

C. Fioretti explained the team’s strategy during the game: “That game was all about defense. A couple of our guys shined on offense, but I don’t think it was our best offensive game. It was my best defensive game of the year because I was able to deny #4 [Jake Wojcik]. I played some good defense on him and this year we defended their screens much better. They didn’t get open threes and that was the key to the game!”

M-A head coach Mike Molieri proudly shared, “It’s been a great opportunity to coach these guys. This win isn’t about me, it’s about these kids who have worked hard— all these seniors, juniors, and one sophomore.” Molieri explained the team’s mentality this season: “We use this little slogan, this little motto: ‘Why not us? Why can’t we win the whole thing [State Championships]?’ So you know, we are just excited and looking forward to the next game on Saturday!”

Be sure to check back for updates on the Bears’ historic season and to continue to support M-A boys basketball!

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