What looked like a blowout last Friday night turned into a close game as the Yosemite High Badgers (3-14, 1-1 NSL) lost a close one last Friday at Liberty-Madera Ranchos, 54-49. The Hawks (12-5, 1-1) seemed to have the game well in hand until the fourth quarter where the Badgers unleashed a furious comeback that came up short.
"We played a really good game," coach Steve Lopez said. "The team never quit despite being down double digits. I'm really proud of this team."
The Hawks, like Yosemite, is a team that scores in the paint. Liberty is led by 6-foot-9 senior Stetson Woods who came in averaging a league high 18.9 points per game. Lopez's strategy was to neutralize Woods down low by putting two defenders on him every time he touched the ball. It worked well. YHS held Woods to 11 points, but the Badgers didn't have an answer for Hawks forward Trevor Stephens who scored a season high 20 points.
With a freshman point guard (Tristan Eames) and two sophomores (Jayson Lee and Cade Cross) starting, the team is improving each game and all of the underclassmen had a huge effort against Liberty.
Eames had his best game of the year scoring 15 points and dishing out six assists, after only recently being moved up from the JV team. Sophomore forward Lee had nine points, including two key three-pointers in the fourth quarter run. Lee also led the Badgers with five steals.
The Badger version of the twin towers, senior center Jared Woods and sophomore Cross had eight points each. Woods took down 15 boards and Cross eight, and the two of them were instrumental in holding Woods to just 11 points. It looked like he would dominate early on, scoring six of Liberty's first nine points. But Cross answered with four points and Lee had two first quarter steals.
Badger points came from the inside as the Badgers were not hitting many outside shots.
Liberty jumped out to an early 11-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. Liberty began to pull away in the second quarter with Stephens scoring at will in the paint and freshman forward Markie Brandt hitting two three-pointers. The Badgers kept going to the inside but missed numerous shots. .
Liberty was up 25-14 when Badger forward Chase Lassos hit a basket as time expired and YHS went into the locker room down 25-16.
Lassos two points seemed to give the Badgers some needed momentum. YHS came out in the third quarter on an 8-2 run with key buckets from Aaron Bausch and Eames. Coach Lopez went up tempo and it was working.
Liberty slowed it down and went to Stephens who led the Hawks on a 7-0 run. Liberty went into the final period up 41-28. The Hawks maintained a 10 point margin for most of the quarter. No matter what YHS tried, they couldn't close the gap. But something happened with just three minutes left in the game. Yosemite caught fire and Liberty looked tired.
With Liberty leading 46-36 Woods hit two buckets down low, and then Eames and Lee ignited an 11-4 Badger run. Stephens scored to give Liberty a 49-39 lead with 1:11 to go. Lee hit a 3-pointer and Cross a two to close to 50-46. Lee stole the ball on Liberty's next possession ran the length of the court and nailed a 3-pointer. With just eight seconds to play Liberty led by just a point, 50-49. Lopez called for a foul to put Liberty on the line. From there YHS would get the ball back and have a shot to win or go into overtime.
Eames fouled Hawk forward DeAndre Smith. The referee called it an intentional foul, that not only put Smith on the line, and after hitting both free throws, Liberty kept possession of the ball. In the in-bounds pass, Smith was fouled again and calmly hit two more free-throws. Liberty escaped with the 54-49 win.
"We came back. We didn't quit and played solid defense all game," Lopez said. "If were able to shoot (3-pointers) like that earlier, things might have been different. Still it was a great effort."
Yosemite also had five points and five assist from Bausch. YHS had 14 turnovers on the night. The steady point play from Eames continues and lack of turnovers is the result. Lee was all over the court defensively pulling down six rebounds to go with his five steals.
The JV team came back from being down 15 points at halftime to beat Liberty 35-31. Dylan Rounsivill had 12 points and Harry Thearle added 10.
Yosemite traveled to league leading Washington Union Wednesday (results not available at press time) and plays second place Chowchilla at home Friday. Both are up-tempo teams with a lot of athleticism.
Game times are girls JV, 3:30 p.m., boys JV, 5 p.m., girls varsity, 6:30 p.m., boys varsity, 8 p.m.
North Sequoia League standings