SACRAMENTO — This arena has hosted Sac-Joaquin Section playoff games since 1986, and seldom, if ever, has a team been able to overcome stage fright to the extent Summerville High did on Saturday afternoon.
For the entire first quarter the Bears looked more out of place at Sleep Train Arena than a flaming monster truck invading Disney on Ice.
But once the Bears figured out this was the same game of basketball they've been playing all season, Liberty Ranch had no chance and Summerville pulled out a 63-52 victory for the school's first boys' basketball section title.
"Liberty Ranch came out to play and got all over us," said Summerville coach Ben Watson, whose team will take a 27-3 record into at least one home game in this week's NorCal playoffs. "Like a bunch of Okies from the hills we saw the big lights and we got scared.
"I don't think my team was as scared as I was, but I could see they were scared."
Actually, all the Bears played well in a classic balanced attack. Connor Morningstar had 12 points and 12 rebounds, Logen Foster had 11 points, Joey Brocchini added 10 and Rosendo Amaya-Wood had nine points and 14 rebounds.
So how nervous was this team?
"In our warm-up lines the team was talking about how bright the lights were, that they couldn't see," said senior Jesse Roberson. "I know I air-balled my first shot.
"It's a lot different but after the first quarter we got back into ourselves as a team and started making those shots."
Summerville hit only one of 12 shots from the field in the first quarter to trail 14-6 after the opening eight minutes, 20-8 three minutes into the second quarter, and was on the verge of getting blown out by the new school from Galt.
It sounds simple, but all the Bears did differently at that point was to calm down, which they all seemed to do in unison. Five different players scored during the 14-2 run that forged a 22-22 halftime tie that turned this into a game.
"We were a little shy and nervous and it took a quarter for us to start playing like a team," Amaya-Wood said. "But once the shots started falling our confidence started to rise."
They still had one big battle on their hands in the form of Liberty Ranch guard Michael Meserole. He's the leading scorer in the history of high school basketball in Galt, and with a Kobe-like green light scored 24 points on seven-of-26 shooting.
Still, with the kind of confidence Meserole has in his game, it always seems like only a matter of time before he gets hot. He never did.
"We always had one guy on him and sometimes it seemed we needed the whole team on him," Amaya-Wood said.
Summerville got a boost off the bench in the fourth quarter from senior Kyle McLaurin, who drilled 3-pointers on his lone two shots of the game, but the Bears didn't take control until the final four minutes.
Morningstar was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound, and made two free throws to cap a 7-0 run that gave Summerville its first double-digit lead, 56-46, with 3:29 left.
From there the Bears sealed the win at the line and will be taking their first section blue banner back to Tuolumne.
"I was proud of the way they battled," Watson said. "I know they were thinking that this might be the end of the road.
"But this group never saw the end of the road and they did something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. I can die on the drive home now and it will be all right with me."