SAN FRANCISCO — Cal Ladine’s had his share of big games this season, but Monday was a bit more special than the others.
“It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in high school,” the senior said after his 39-point outburst led the Lowell Cardinals to a 74-53 victory at Mission, their first win over the Bears since 2016. “Our team seems to be firing on all cylinders right now, and I feel like we have the upper hand right now. The past three years, they had the upper hand on us, but right now it really looks like we’re in control.”
Mission (14-11, 10-2 AAA) had won the past 12 head-to-head meetings, including two City championship games, but with the Bears missing three starters on Monday night, the Cardinals were ready to strike.
“It’s been a long time, obviously. They’re missing some guys, but whether they’re missing guys or not, it’s not taking away from what we did,” head coach Rob Ray said after his team won at Mission for the first time since 2006. “Today it wouldn’t have mattered who was out there.”
The Bears were without the services of Noah Lee (ankle), Julian Neal (wrist) and Marcelo Solis (back), but even if they were at full strength, they would have had no shot to stop Ladine and minimal hope to even contain him. The 6-foot-3 forward was on another level, slashing to the hoop all night and getting bucket after bucket. He scored eight in the first and 12 in the second, including four straight baskets to counter the hot-shooting Bears, but that was just an appetizer for the third quarter. Lowell (19-6, 9-3) held a 23-9 advantage in the third, with Ladine scoring 17 by himself, including a pair of 3-pointers on a night where the Cardinals connected just three times from beyond the arc but nevertheless were able to score at will. Andre Villarino got the first basket of the quarter on a putback to cut the lead to 40-34, but a Rishi Raghavan steal and layup, Ladine and-1 and Raghavan putback gave the visitors what was to that point their largest lead of the night at 47-34. They’d absolutely blow things open from there, with Ladine’s second three, off a Josh Chi offensive rebound, answering one from Reggie Torno and ensuring the Bears wouldn’t heat back up. That shot made it 53-39 and kicked off a 13-2 run to close the quarter, which finished with a fired-up Raghavan feeding Ladine one last time.
“When you pass the ball to someone and they score, it feels 100 percent better than when you score,” said Raghavan, who finished the night with 18 points and nine rebounds.
His chemistry with Ladine in the post was on display again Monday as the two combined to outscore the Bears all by themselves, and it’s been reflected off the court as well.
“As good as Cal is, every time in the locker room after games, for Cal, it’s all about Rishi. When Rishi’s good, we’re all good,” Ray said. “His leadership is very vital to how well we play.”
The Cardinals largely stepped off the gas in the fourth, with Ladine scoring just once more to finish with 39 while Raghavan got seven in the quarter, including a putback for the largest lead of the game at 72-46.
“We’re just trying to focus on us instead of them,” Ray explained of the turnaround after years of losses to the Bears. “For a lot of years, I’ve been focusing on them, but this year I’m trying to change it around a bit and the guys are accepting the role that it’s more about us than the other teams, and today they came out and proved it. It’s now our game. It’s not Mission’s game or Lincoln’s game or whoever’s game. I’ve wanted to get this game for many, many years and so do the seniors here. It’s a big win for the program.”
Mission erased a 13-point halftime deficit when the teams first met, but things fell apart in the second half for the hosts, who lost just their second league game since 2016.
“They kept coming,” head coach Arnold Zelaya said. “My guys aren’t used to struggling scoring that much, and we asked some guys to play more minutes than they’re used to. Injuries are part of the game, and we dealt with it a lot in nonleague play, but it keeps coming back to us and we’ve gotta fight through it.”
The Bears did hit 10 3-pointers, with Andre Villarino and Taariq Norbert, who shared high honors for Mission with 11 points apiece, knocking down three each. With Neal and Solis out, one of the only bigs available to play was sophomore Kai Krejci, who had nine points and nine assists.
“He works his butt off,” Zelaya said. “He’s sat for a long time watching these guys playing in front of him. He’s too good to play JV but he just wasn’t really ready to get any minutes. He’s been playing a lot more the last few weeks.”
Reggie Torno also scored nine while sophomore Maurice Oliver had eight, all coming in the first half. Noa Abuanandaya, also a sophomore, scored seven for the visitors.
Now two games back of Lincoln, the Bears will need a miracle in order to claim a share of a seventh consecutive AAA regular season championship. They’ll return to action on Thursday with a trip to Academy (4-16, 1-11). The Cardinals won’t play again until Friday, when they’ll take the court at Kezar Pavilion against Wallenberg (5-17, 2-10).