It was impossible to tell Friday that Summerville senior Kyle McLaurin just recovered from an illness that hospitalized him and made him miss eight games during the Mother Lode League season.
With the Bears trailing Encina Prep in the first quarter of Friday's CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Basketball Championships quarterfinals matchup, McLaurin narrowed the deficit by sinking a late 3-pointer to end the period with the Bulldogs leading 20-16 - and he was far from finished.
Two minutes into the second quarter, McLaurin made another trey from the corner off a pass from Bear co-captain Jesse Roberson. His next 3-pointer, 30 seconds later, was a baseline jumper off an assist from Logen Foster, which gave the Bears a lead they would never relinquish.
Summerville held on the rest of the way for a 73-69 victory and advance to the Final Four at Tokay High School in Stockton on Wednesday.
"It feels great to come back and be able to put on this," said McLaurin, who scored 13 points, including four treys. "Even just one 3 would have been awesome for me. I don't take anything for granted anymore after missing so many games, so this was really special for me."
His teammates were also happy for him.
"I'd say that was probably the biggest moment that turned it all around for us, when (McLaurin) hit those three 3s in a row," said Bear co-captain Rosendo Amaya-Wood.
"It was nice to see (McLaurin) come back, get his strength up and now he's out there hitting shots for us and taking care of the ball," said Roberson.
McLaurin, Amaya-Wood and Roberson were called up from junior varsity as sophomores to travel with the 2010-11 Bears team that advanced to the Final Four of that season's section championships. This season's squad has been striving to go even deeper in the postseason and with Friday's win they're now one away from achieving that goal.
"On the bench, I was feeling so nervous I almost felt sick, but then I remembered two years ago when I got moved up to the playoffs during my sophomore year," said McLaurin. "I got in and just wanted to spark something - and it escalated, obviously."
It escalated quickly, as the Bears continued to build on their lead in the second quarter with two additional treys, this time both by Foster, and went into the lockerroom at the break leading 40-36 after Encina managed to get a 3 of their own at the buzzer.
Foster led the Bears with 19 points and did well setting the fast pace that gave the Bulldogs trouble in the second half.
"He does some really good things and gives us great energy," Bears head coach Ben Watson said. "He just brings some speed to the game and that really helped us out tonight."
Foster also provided an answer to the Bulldog's star guards Dajon Green and Aaron Johnson. Green scored a game-high 28 points, 18 of which came off six treys, while Johnson had 19. Both were recently named co-MVPs of the Sierra Delta League.
"They were really quick," Roberson said of Green and Johnson. "No. 15 (Johnson) hit like every single outside shot, so we pressed with Logen (Foster). Logen closed down in the second half and made it more tough on him and I think that helped."
"They were great shooters off the dribble and we didn't really expect that," added McLaurin. "We expected them to be quick, but they were lightning fast! I had a lot of respect for them. It's hard to come up here and we had a really great crowd tonight."
The Summerville gymnasium was packed, the band was playing and the "Bear Cave" was roaring, with many fans wearing T-shirts, face paint or even body paint in support of their team.
"They (the home crowd) got into the opponent's head at times and they got us going when we hit shots," said Summerville senior Connor Morningstar. "Every shot we made there was energy coming out of the crowd and that's what fueled us tonight."
The Bulldogs put up a fight in the final minutes after trailing throughout the entire second half. After trailing by as much as as nine, 68-59, they narrowed it to 72-69 with only 12.5 seconds left following a successful 3-pointer by Green.
Foster nailed a free throw on the ensuing possession to put them down four with 8 seconds left. An Encina player was fouled with .7 seconds on the clock and needed to make the first free throw, miss the second and somehow convert the rebound into a 3-pointer in the given time. That unlikely scenario did not get a chance to unfold after the first free throw was no good.
"We never ever quit playing," said Watson. "As a coach, that's what makes you the most proud. Good and bad things happen but we don't quit playing. We teach and work on it everyday in practice and to see the kids take ownership in that and take accountability for their own actions just really makes me very emotional."
Watson also took time to recognize other coaches and assistants throughout the years that helped in the development of current players.
"I happen to be the head coach, but coaches (Marlin) Heldstab, (Jim) Hodge, (Darcy) Wingo and (Mike) McLaurin had them when they were freshmen and JVs and coach (Marlen) Ronten was here when they were young," said Watson. "The other coaches that have coached these guys to get them where they are now deserve an awful lot of credit."
Watson praised the way the Summerville Bears shared the ball Friday. In addition to Foster's 19 points and McLaurin's 13, Roberson added 15, Amaya-Wood and Morningstar each had eight, Brocchini scored six and Colton Ebbers contributed four off the bench.
"Ebbers is coming in and getting some key boards and putbacks when we need them," said Watson. "Our bigs (Roberson, Morningstar and Amaya-Wood) just keep getting after it and know something good will happen. Joey (Brocchini) is in there setting great screens, playing great defense, shooting the ball well and getting to the hoop. You just can't say enough."
The Bears will journey to Tokay High on Wednesday where they will play a late game against the Riverbank Bruins, who defeated the Bret Harte Bullfrogs 88-65. Riverbank (24-3) edged Summerville 68-65 at its own tournament in November.
Summerville went on to go undefeated in the MLL while Riverbank went 10-2 in the Trans Valley League. Out of the five common opponents Riverbank and Summerville have played this season, there is not a single loss between them.
"They know what we look like and we know what they look like, so execution will be key," said Morningstar. "But we've gotten better and they've gotten better. It's going to be a battle."