After a thrilling 54-51 come from behind victory over No. 3 Gridley last Wednesday night in the Northern Section CIF Division IV semifinals, the No. 2 seeded Pierce Bears didn’t quite have enough left in the tank to dethrone reigning champion and No. 1 seed University Prep as they fell 52-44 in the title game at Shasta College on Feb. 29.
In Redding last Saturday afternoon the Bears, in their second appearance in the section finals since winning it in 2005, jumped out to a 16-10 lead in the opening period, but the Panthers hit a long range three at the buzzer to cut the advantage to 16-13 and change the momentum as the first period expired.
U-Prep, the beneficiary of a hometown advantage as well as an extra day of rest, played solid defense and got productive minutes from some recent JV call-ups to forge ahead 26-24 at half.
In the third quarter the Panthers went on a 9-0 run and took a nine point lead into the final quarter but the Bears did not go away and cut the lead to five points with just under three minutes remaining when Justin Mathews, one of the heroes from the win over Gridley, scored seven straight points.
However, there was to be no comeback this time, as U-Prep responded with two clutch shots, which were ultimately the final nails in the coffin for Pierce.
Daniel Medina and Eduardo Paiz each tossed 11 points while Mathews and Luke Voorhees added seven points apiece in what was just the fourth setback of the year for Pierce.
While disappointed with the outcome, Coach Cody McCullough offered this perspective on the game.
“Two well-rounded teams were in a hard fought battle. We played our hearts out and were just a few shots, plays, stops and decisions short. I don’t think either team ever trailed by double digits and we never counted ourselves out. The other team made some big shots at critical times in the game that we failed to answer. I think if we faced that team 10 times, we would beat them five times,” said the first year head coach.
To reach the championship game, the Bears mounted a furious fourth quarter rally outscoring Gridley 21-10, which delighted the hometown crowd and left the Bulldogs wondering what had just transpired.
Medina finished with a team high 20 points including a lay up and steal that figured prominently in the in the win, while Mathews pitched in with 15 points, eight of which came in the final period.