By Joe Davidson
A year ago, the Antelope Titans were young, fun and a bit star struck by the NBA arena moment.
These days? Old hat.
From newcomers to the big stage of Sacramento-area championship success to sudden veterans hungry for more, the top-seeded Titans held off No. 4 Bella Vista 55-49 on Wednesday night in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal at Power Balance Pavilion.
Isaiah Ellis powered inside for 18 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots, Jarvis Watkins had 10 points, Caleb King had nine and Gabe Bealer, Kei'Shaun Sinclair and Rashard Thornhill combined for 18. In short, another across-the-board effort for Antelope, which carries its remarkable 27-game winning streak into Saturday's title game.
And no, nerves won't be an issue. That is so...yesteryear.
"The butterflies weren't there this time," Titans coach Rob Richards said. "We're on a mission."
Everyone on campus seems to be on a mission in an impressive show of one-for-all. Every where you look on the newish campus, there are reminders of hoops success.
At Power Balance, the school's "Red Zone" rooting section rocked, rolled and rejoiced in again standing alone in student support.
"I love the Red Zone," Richards said. "The whole school is on board. We've got banners, balloons every where. It's one giant, fantastic community."
At times, Ellis is one giant, fantastic joy to watch. The junior seems to improve by the week, Richards said.
"He's just now figuring out that he can take over on both ends of the floor," the coach said.
All told, the Titans as a team have learned they can take over games. Antelope lost in the section finals to St. Mary's of Stockton beat Antelope in the D-II finals. Antelope responded by winning two NorCal playoff games, and then exacted a measure of revenge by bouncing St. Mary's on Friday with a second-half charge.
So mission indeed. Antelope targets much more than a section title. Richards and his players talk about "unfinished business" and the urgency of "getting it done."
Ahmad Smith had five three-pointers and scored a game-high 27 for Bella Vista, the junior guard producing his finest playoff moment. Richards said, "he was on fire; couldn't hhandle him."
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter: @sb_joedavidson