The growing pains that came with being a brand new program have been replaced with title hopes for the Mira Monte boys basketball team.
After three years of taking their lumps as the new kids on the block, the Lions now appear to be serious contenders to win the South Yosemite League championship.
Mira Monte took the first step toward that end on Wednesday night with a convincing 64-49 victory over visiting Golden Valley in a South Yosemite League opener.
Braxton Huggins had a game-high 26 points and 9 rebounds for Mira Monte (11-5, 1-0 SYL), which outscored Golden Valley 18-2 over the final seven minutes.
"It's great," Huggins said of the Lions' win. "We work hard for it, so we deserve it."
The Bulldogs were paced by Dequan Banche, who had 19 points and 9 rebounds. Keith Cooper, Golden Valleys' scoring leader averaging 14.5 points per game, had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
The senior center's efforts weren't nearly enough to keep his team from a second-half collapse.
Golden Valley (12-8, 0-1 SYL) led by as many as eight points in the third quarter before fading under the wave of Mira Monte's aggressive man-to-man pressure defense and hot second-half outside shooting.
"I think we just got frustrated with ourselves and they weren't able to stay focused and stay together," Golden Valley coach Adam Gratt said.
After struggling to score against Golden Valley's box-and-one defense, aimed at slowing down the high-scoring Huggins, the Lions finally got their offense rolling midway through the third quarter.
Mira Monte got a boost off the bench in the second half from Taj Diliza, who scored all 11 of his points in the final two quarters.
Diliza hit a pair of 3-pointers that were part of a 16-7 run which helped Mira Monte turn a 35-27 deficit with 6:32 left in the third quarter into a 43-42 lead heading into the final period.
Following four early fourth-quarter lead changes, the Lions went ahead for good on a pair of Huggins free throws with 6:53 remaining.
"I'm proud of the way our guys responded because we could have easily folded," Mira Monte coach Scott Smith said.
Smith wasn't nearly as jovial during halftime break with his team down 28-25.
"I'll be honest, I yelled at them," he said. "With this group you have to challenge them because they don't have the most experience in these situations."
Huggins made 15-of-18 free throws. Overall Mira Monte made 22-of-32 (68.75-percent) free throws as four Golden Valley players, including three starters fouled out.
The Lions shot 41-percent (18-of-44) from the floor. Golden Valley, which made only two field goals in the fourth quarter, hit 36-percent (20-of-56) of its field goal attempts.
A year ago Mira Monte went 2-1 against Golden Valley but still finished in the SYL cellar.