Mesa Ridge can finally hang a championship banner for boys' basketball.
After 16 long seasons, the Grizzlies clinched their first 4A Metro League crown Thursday as Matt Atkins scored a game-high 20 points, and Caine Martinez added 15 points and 11 rebounds in a 70-56 win over Mitchell.
"I brought the boys in before practice and told them to look at the wall," Grizzlies first-year coach Paul Mileto said. "I told them to leave their mark. We couldn't have picked a better time to do it on senior night in front of a packed house. These guys have had their struggles along the way."
Both Mesa Ridge (14-9, 10-2 4A CSML) and Mitchell (12-11, 9-3) entered the game with identical 9-2 league marks as both teams played for rare titles. The Marauders were looking for their first league crown since 2000-01.
But from the beginning, Mesa Ridge took charge, connecting on 11 of 14 shots in the first quarter in racing out to a 22-13 lead. Martinez led the charge with nine points, making all four of his outside attempts.
"It felt good to hit my first shots, but that was mostly from my teammates getting me open," Martinez said. "I had hurt my knee before the first Mitchell game, so I wanted to come back and do something. We all worked hard as a team and we made it to the top."
The Grizzlies increased the lead to 29-13 with a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, highlighted by an Atkins dunk and subsequent technical foul on Mitchell coach Jarris Krapcha with 4:58 left before halftime.
Atkins then fueled a 14-4 run to start the third quarter with a pair of layups off steals, then later converted a three-point play as the Grizzlies opened up a 45-24 advantage.
"I noticed that we were lacking a little energy coming out for the second half," said Atkins, whose team led 31-20 at the break. "No one was stepping up, so I had to get everyone going."
Mitchell, which scored a 57-46 homecourt win over Mesa Ridge on Jan. 30, never got on track and gave up 70 points for the first time in league play. The Marauders also allowed 18 offensive rebounds and missed 15-of-27 free throws.
"We've been a comeback team all season, and no deficit has been too large," Krapcha said. "But to come back, it starts with defense and getting stops. We let them get too many rebounds, and on nights when the shots don't fall, you have to depend on defense and rebounding."
Keven Rovnan had a team-high 14 points for the Marauders, who despite the setback will advance to the 4A state playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.