Wednesday at 6 p.m., the Paso Robles and Atascadero boys basketball teams will face off for this season’s third and final time. The winner is earning a shot to play for a California Interscholastic Federation Central Section (CIF-CS) Division 3 Championship. The Hounds won both of the meetings between the two teams during the Ocean League regular season, but the winner takes all in the third game because the loser goes home in the playoffs. 

Both of the previous games between these two teams were highly anticipated as their two-game series decided who won the crown in the Ocean League. The boys first squared off on May 18 in Paso Robles when both teams had only one league loss on their record. The Bearcats were 7-1 at the time, having just dropped their first game of the season, while the Hounds were 6-4 with three losses coming from Mountain League competition. Both teams were 5-1 in league play, meaning the winner would take hold of the top spot with just under a month to go in the season. 

The game went back and forth, with the Hounds taking a first-quarter lead only to trail by seven at the half. However, as they have all season, Atascadero locked in defensively in the second half holding the Bearcats to just six third-quarter points, which in turn ignited their offense, and the Hounds earned the win 62-53. 

One week later, the two teams played each other a second time, this time on Atascadero’s home floor. Once again, Atascadero was dialed in on defense and earned the victory, 57-42. In fact, the Hounds have held the Bearcats to two of their three lowest point totals all season. Wednesday night, the Bearcats will need work to get some easy buckets early to get their confidence going from the outside. 

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

As any sports fan will tell you, it is hard to beat a good team three times, but what makes this matchup so interesting is not just the familiarity of the players but the coaches as well. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the last time the Bearcats made a CIF Semifinal in basketball was in 2005-06 when their current head coach Derrick Jasper and assistant coach Bradford Young were leading the crimson and white.  

The Hounds have made it to a CIF semifinal twice in the last 20 years, most recently in 2010 led by point guard Troy Norris, and the second time in 2004 and led by AHS head coach Augie Johnston. Not only have these two head coaches led their high school teams while in school to the semifinals, but they have now done it as coaches. 

“I remember when I first got the varsity job,” Johnston told the Paso Robles Press. “Derrick [Jasper] messaged me on Instagram or something and said, ‘We have to bring back the rivalry. It’s not the same as it used to be’ and I agreed, and now I think we are all the way back.”

“We [Jasper and Young] have had many battles against coach Johnston on the when we were high school players ourselves,” Jasper told the Paso Robles Press. “So it’s exciting to be on the other side coaching now for something so meaningful to everyone involved.”  

Unfortunately for Jasper and Johnston, they fell in the semifinals while playing in high school, but one of their teams will earn a spot in the CIF Championship game on Wednesday. 

Each of the teams has won two playoff games to make it into the semifinals. The Hounds entered the playoffs as the no. 4 seed and have cruised into the semifinals for the most part. In the first round, the Hounds hosted Sunnyside, winning 60-40, and then beat no. 5 seed, Hanford, by 15 points 56-41. 

The Bearcats have had a much more challenging path through the playoffs as they entered as the no. 8 seed. In the first round, Paso Robles played a familiar foe in Righetti and disposed of the Knights 67-55. In the second round, the Bearcats played the no. 1 overall seed in Division 2 in Centennial, who earned a first-round bye. The cardiac cats took the game down the wire and headed out of Bakersfield with one point, 76-75 victory. 

“Atascadero has come out on top after the first two contests,” Jasper told the Paso Robles Press. “So we understand that this game will be extremely tough to win, but my team has been through a lot this year, many close games, and the one constant theme to winning those close games is competing…If we can compete from beginning to end for 32 minutes, good things will happen.” 

Unfortunately, as has been the case this entire season, only four people per athlete will be permitted into the gym on Wednesday night to watch the game per the COVID-19 guidelines set in place by the SLO County Department of Public Health. However, those unable to attend can view the game live with play-by-play and color commentary on the VoiceOfPaso.com. 

As the highest seed remaining in the playoffs, if the Hounds were to win on Wednesday night, Atascadero would host the CIF Championship game in their own building on Friday night.