It would have been ridiculously unfair a couple of years ago to expect the Mission Oak Hawks to have any reasonable expectations of hanging up championship banners anytime in their not-so-distant future.
Yes, it would have been ridiculously unfair.
But it would also have been accurate.
In just their third season under head coach Myron Epps, the Hawks captured their first East Yosemite League championship and now own all current rights to claiming Tulare County boys basketball supremacy.
In a game fitting for their official coronation ceremony as Kings of the EYL, the Hawks dismantled the four-time defending EYL champion Tulare Union Redskins 65-31 Wednesday at Mission Oak High School.
"This is great. It really hasn't hit me yet that it's happened, but this is great. It's special for the team. It's special for the program," Epps said. "The kids deserved this. They've worked hard for it."
Mission Oak (23-3, 9-0) holds a two-game lead over Tulare Union (20-6, 7-2) with only one league game remaining. The EYL crown also represents the school's first outright EYL championship in a boys sport.
Although the Hawks made another convincing statement that they should be the No. 1 seed in the Central Section Division III bracket, all of the drama to Wednesday's game happened within the first 30 seconds of the game:
* Mission Oak junior star point guard Blake Shannon was dressed in a warm-up suit, and was unavailable after suffering a knee injury during a game last week against Tulare Western. Shannon is averaging nearly 20 points per game.
* Tulare Union senior star center Keonta Vernon suffered what appeared to be an ankle sprain on the Redskins' initial possession. Vernon returned later in the first quarter, but played no more than a minute. He played periodically during the second half, but he was just a small sliver of his normal self. Vernon had just one shot attempt and no points. He entered the game as the Central Section's unofficial leading scorer (24.8 points-per-game scoring average).
Complicating matters for Mission Oak was the fact that senior center Kollan Mundley, one of the area's top frontcourt players, was charged with his third foul just four minutes into the first quarter. Mundley's foul issues never presented a problem.
What this contest proved was that there was a lot more to the overall Mission Oak arsenal than a key player or two.
Bobby Alvarado opened Mission Oak's dominance with nine first-quarter points as the Hawks built a 17-8 lead. The Hawk advantage grew to 32-13 by halftime, and the closest the Redskins got to the Hawks in the second half was 13 points. Mission Oak was up 47-23 by the end of the third quarter.
Alvarado had 18 points, and Austin Molezzo had 14 points.
Oscar Reyes had a team-high 18 points for Tulare Union.
While Vernon tried to convince Tulare Union coach Mark Hatton to let him play throughout the game, Shannon took a seat on the Hawks' bench. Epps said Shannon's status is day-to-day and hopes to have him back for the start of the playoffs on Feb. 20.
What will be interesting is to see how the Central Section commissioners view the Hawks' last two wins over Tulare Union. The Hawks won by a combined 61 points. Independence (27-1), Mission Oak's chief challenger for the No. 1 Division III seed, needed double-overtime to beat Tulare Union on Jan. 21 (77-75). Have to wonder how much the commissioners will discount this Hawks' win since Vernon wasn't close to 100 percent.