Bears head coach Ben Watson sat in his office at Summerville High Wednesday after his team was just defeated by the Orland Trojans in the first round of the CIF State Boys Division IV Basketball Championships and marveled at what they have accomplished this season.
“I’ve never been associated with anything like this,” he said. “You just don’t go and win a section championship. I’ve had a couple close runs before, but what these kids accomplished is pretty amazing.”
The Bears came into this season, following a difficult 2011-12 in which they missed the playoffs, with one goal in mind — go down as one of the greatest Summerville basketball teams in school history.
And these Bears certainly made an impressive argument for that.
Summerville started its preseason with a couple losses but were never shaken. They bested cross-town rival Sonora both times the teams met and went into Mother Lode League play ready to make a run at an undefeated record.
The Bears cruised to that record with relative ease, winning most of the matchups by double-digit figures.
Their 15-0 MLL record cemented them their first league title since the 2010-11 season, which featured a team that — at the time — set the bar for Summerville’s postseason hoops success by reaching the semifinals of the section championships and winning a first round state playoff game before falling to St. Mary’s.
Other Summerville hoops teams have reached the semifinals, including the 1981-82 squad, but this year’s Bears were determined to outdo that 2010-11 team’s successes. Especially considering some on the current team, including Logen Foster, Jesse Roberson and Kyle McLaurin, then sophomores, were called up from junior varsity for the postseason.
Their 25-3 overall record going into the 2012-13 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships clinched home games in the first two rounds against Delhi and Encina Prep before meeting Riverbank in the semifinals at Tokay High.
Riverbank dealt Summerville a 3-point loss earlier in the season but the Bears avenged it with a 72-55 drubbing to advance to the championship against Liberty Ranch at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, where they were victorious to claim their school’s first section pennant.
“We’re going to look back on this 20 years down the road and say we were the first basketball team to win section,” said Bear forward Connor Morningstar. “It means a lot.”
“I never thought we were going to do this,” said Bear guard Joey Brocchini, who scored a team-high 18 points off six treys in the second half to keep Summerville in Wednesday’s state playoff game. “Going 15-0 in league was our first accomplishment and that was a joy to us. Then winning our first section playoff game, and the next, and the next and winning the section championship… I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love my team and I’m glad I was a part of it.”
Throughout the season, the Bears used their superior size in players like 6-7 Morningstar, 6-7 Rosendo Amaya-Wood and 6-6 Jesse Roberson, but also showed an unselfishness and willingness to pass the ball that made it difficult to predict who would be the high scorer each game and even harder on opposing coaches to plan against.
“We’re always going to be friends, we’re always going to be together and we’ll always have each other’s backs like we did this season,” said Amaya-Wood. “It was just a really good feeling to be a part of this family.”
Roberson pointed out that most players on the squad have been playing on teams together long before high school, so accomplishing this much in their senior season makes it more special.
“We’ve been together so long and to end on a year like this, I mean, undefeated in league, MLL champs, first section champs at our school, I know we’re going to remember it forever and bring it up anytime we see each other,” he said.
The “Bear Cave,” a nickname for the student cheering section, also stuck together throughout the postseason, drowning out opposing crowds’ chants and filling arena stands with black and orange.
On Wednesday, the Summerville faithful were in full force. Summerville High Principal David Johnstone said 750 advance tickets to Wednesday’s game that went on sale Tuesday were sold out by that afternoon.
He estimated the crowd in the Summerville gymnasium Wednesday to be about 900 strong.
“We were kinda peeking out probably 30 to 45 minutes before the game and the whole place was packed already with people standing not able to find seats,” Roberson said.. “It was just awesome the way the community supported us this whole year, but especially tonight.”
Bear forward Colton Ebbers said the team has appreciated the support it has received from fans throughout their high school careers.
“They have been tremendous all four years we’ve been in high school,” he said.
Ebbers said the support made Wednesday’s loss easier to handle.
“I’m glad it was in front of our home crowd with people we love and can see after the game instead of losing somewhere else where we have no one to hug,” he said.
Summerville sophomore Bryce Farrell said large turnouts like Wednesday’s help spark the team to play their best.
“They give us confidence after we make a big shot,” he said. “And that just gives us more confidence to make another shot and so on, so it’s just confidence-building.”
Watson said “he owes so much to the community” for all it’s done this season for his team.
“I’m so thankful to the student body, the band, the parents, the fans, the alumni and everybody that comes out to support us,” he said.
Watson attributed much of this season’s success to the good character that each of his players possesses.
“I could absolutely spend every single moment of the rest of my life with these kids I’ve been with this past season,” he said. “They’re just great people on and off the court. They’re well-respected, admired and compassionate to other. They are the epitome of what high school athletes should be, and I’ve been around a long time.”
For Bear guard Kyle McLaurin, this postseason journey has been special because he missed eight games late in the MLL season due to an illness for which he was hospitalized. However, he came back shooting strong and was a threat from long range anytime he had the ball.
“I treated every game of playoffs like it was league after missing eight games,” he said. “As a senior, I just wanted to play and that’s what I got to do.”
McLaurin is also the grandson of Marlen Ronten, the longtime Summerville basketball coach who died of cancer in October 2011, and the current group of Bears are the last to be directly impacted by Ronten’s influence while he was alive.
“My papa would be proud,” McLaurin said after Wednesday’s game