It appears that we have entered the dawn of the Age of the Hawks in East Yosemite League boys basketball.
On Friday night, the Mission Oak Hawks delivered the kind of statement to the rest of the league that the Tulare Union Redskins' days as Kings of the EYL are officially numbered.
And they also sent out another message to the rest of the Central Section: We'll see you in Selland Arena for the Division III championship game on March 2 if we can continue to play like this.
Mission Oak leveled four-time defending EYL champion Tulare Union 81-54 before a packed house at Sim Iness Gymnasium.
The win provided Mission Oak (18-3, 4-0) sole possession of first place in the EYL. The loss snapped a 53-game EYL winning streak for Tulare Union (16-4, 3-1). The Redskins' previous EYL loss was on Jan. 28, 2009, a 52-45 defeat to Tulare Western.
Friday's victory also marked the Hawks' second win over Tulare Union this season. Mission Oak captured the title to the Polly Wilhelmsen Invitational with a 77-73 win over Tulare Union in the Dec. 29 tourney finale.
"This was a reminder that we can win a big game," Mission Oak junior Blake Shannon said. "Since last week, I've been hearing people saying the Polly was a fluke, and that we kind of were going down and Tulare Union was on the way up. This proved that we're ready to start our reign in the EYL. But our main goal is to get to Selland (Arena), that's what I've always wanted since I started (high school). We want to win Valley. That's our goal. That's what we've been preaching all season."
Shannon was at the forefront of the Hawks' unrelenting attack with a game-high 30 points. The Hawks had three other players reach the teens in points scored. Senior center Kollan Mundley had 16 points, freshman Austin Molezzo had 14 points and senior Matt Zorn finished with 13 points. Molezzo and Zorn combined to score 17 points during the Hawks' game-opening 24-8 run.
"We knew this was going to be a tough basketball game. We knew we had to play a complete game and get contributions from all 12 guys to win this. This was almost a (perfect) game. It was definitely one of our more complete efforts. We need to keep playing at this type of level for us to win a championship," Mission Oak coach Myron Epps said.
The Redskins had a brief 3-2 lead when Bailey Shaw connected on a 3-pointer, but they were facing a deficit for the rest of the game when Molezzo sank a 3-pointer on the Hawks' ensuing possession.
It was an air raid of 3-pointers in the first quarter for Mission Oak. The Hawks hit six of their first seven 3-point attempts.
Tulare Union was unable to cut the gap to a somewhat manageable margin by halftime -- the Hawks were up 43-28 at the break -- and the wheels fell off in the third quarter with Redskin star Keonta Vernon picking up his fourth foul early in the period. Vernon exited the game for good with 1:22 left in the third quarter after being assessed his fifth foul.
Mission Oak was up 59-37 at the time of Vernon's departure.
"We were outcoached. We were outplayed. And that's pretty much the story," Tulare Union coach Mark Hatton said.
Vernon was held to a season-low 11 points. Oscar Reyes led Tulare Union with 16 points.
Hatton isn't relinquishing the Redskins' claim to the EYL throne just yet.
"We're not going to run away and crawl under a rock because we lost a basketball game," Hatton said. "We're going to get back to work tomorrow and work like we've always worked. Our goal is to get to the next (Mission Oak) game with (one EYL loss). If we can make that happen, we have a chance to win a basketball championship."