By John Murphy
The postgame interview with Menlo-Atherton girls coach Markisha Coleman was nearly complete when the lights went out in the Half Moon Bay High School gymnasium.
“Wow,” Coleman said of the impending, college-style Cougar intro for the boys game.
Wow, is right. If fans didn’t know this basketball game had a different vibe to it, maybe the poster on the wall provided a hint. It had a picture of Yoda of “Star Wars” fame with a mug shot of Menlo-Atherton boys coach Mike Molieri comically slapped next to it, furrowed brow and all.
“It came from a reference a few years ago when we beat them out here,” Molieri said. “We call them the Evil Empire. It’s been a running, fun little theme for us.”
Cougars coach Rich Forslund, who coached with Molieri at Archbishop Riordan in the late 2000s, had a more elaborate explanation for the Yoda gag.
“It’s partly his physical stature,” he said with a laugh. “He represents the good side of the Force and he thinks the good guys have to win. We have the black uniforms and I guess I’m Darth Vader.”
Um, OK. This writer missed the Star Wars Trilogy as well as the lastest flick, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” that has Disney shareholders so drunk with joy. In fact, I had to turn to my crack team of researchers (Wikipedia) to learn about Jedi Master Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and R2D2.
The original “Star Wars” movie came out in 1977 and I skipped it because I was probably driving around in my Oldsmobile listening to Thin Lizzy and Foghat eight-tracks or something. I do recall I had this rec leader friend named Obbie who was suddenly being called “Obbie-Wan Kenobi” by all his playground kids, and that really ticked him off. But I digress.
Menlo-Atherton coach Molieri might have felt uneasy Saturday night when two “Sixth Man” blokes from Half Moon Bay walked by him waving light sabers before they turned the lights back on in the Cougar gym. It was almost like a hex, something Molieri needed about as much as a flu bug after four consecutive losses to the Cougars.
Alas, the Force was with the Bears through the first 16 minutes as they surged to a 28-9 lead late in the first half. But then the nattily attired “Darth Vader” over on the Half Moon Bay bench conjured up some strategic alchemy and turned those ferocious Bears into bruin cubs in the second half, resulting in a 55-49 win for the home team.
“This is one of their signature games,” Forslund said of Menlo-Atherton. “We have the banter about ‘Star Wars.’ We have a huge target on our backs now because we’ve had some success.”
Forslund also called the Cougars’ rally from 19 down and ultimate victory “fantastic.”
So, who’s got the Force now, oh height-challenged one?
Unlike Yoda, Molieri displayed neither a gnomelike wrinkle nor convoluted speech pattern in defeat.
“Unfortunately, the Evil Empire won today,” he said.