STOCKTON — It’s not easy to be thankful when a season ends abruptly.
And in the playoffs, all seasons except a select few end that way.
But after 11th-seeded Mountain View-Saint Francis topped No. 6 Bear Creek 54-50 in a CIF NorCal Division I playoff Wednesday, the Bruins still found reason to be proud.
Even after a devastating finale, in which the game was tied with under two minutes to go – five days after losing the program’s first ever section championship appearance in overtime.
Maya Price, one of three departing seniors on Bear Creek’s roster, immediately drew on the inspiration of a fallen teammate and friend.
“This season has meant a lot, especially with Malaysia’s passing. It’s been extra motivating for us,” Price said of the late Malaysia Porter, who died in a car accident on Interstate 5 in July.
Cassidy Byrne, a junior, pointed to a sublime regular season – one highlighted by a 26-game winning streak and sweeping a budding rival in Edison. The wins over Edison softened a bitter taste from the year before, when the Vikings hit a buzzer beater at Bear Creek to clinch a league championship.
Byrne did admit that the section final took its toll.
“It was really hard on our team, because it was a close game,” Byrne said. “Our goal was to win sections.”
Still, Bear Creek set a school record for wins, claimed its second-ever San Joaquin Athletic Association banner and took Antelope (section final) and Saint Francis to the brink.
“I am very impressed with how fast we’ve turned this program around. Players, coaches, and the whole nine yards,” second year head coach Anthony Matthews said. “I knew we had the capacity to do it.
“Did I think we’d do it this fast? No.”
Byrne gave the Bruins (28-4) their final chance on Wednesday, burying a corner 3-pointer to tie the Lancers at 48 with roughly 90 seconds remaining.
Saint Francis (15-12), a battle-tested team out of the Bay Area’s Western Catholic Athletic League, missed its next shot but the ball went out of bounds off a Bruin.
From there, point guard Paige Uyehara delivered a running bank shot that would be the eventual game-winner.
On the ensuing possession, Bear Creek traveled, and the Lancers’ Emma Cheli cashed in with a layup toward the end of the shot clock.
Bruins point guard Mya Blake added a layup to cut the deficit to 52-50, but Uyehara would eventually sink game-clinching one-and-one free throws.
“They’re just a good team. You can’t take any of them lightly,” Matthews said. “They were able to exploit the fact that if you put all of your attention on (Uyehara), the other players on the court can kill you.”
Uyehara paced the Lancers with a game-high 19 points, while Blake powered Bear Creek with 16 points and Byrne added 12 including three 3s.
Saint Francis advances to face No. 3 Alameda-St. Joseph Notre Dame in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The returning Bruins, on the other hand, can begin their offseason routine with motivation aplenty from back-to-back heartbreakers.
“I’m hoping that they win a section championship next year,” Price said.
“Just keep on making a legacy.”