The Yosemite High basketball team (5-17, 3-4) needed a win last week, after losing to both Kerman and Sierra the previous week. It wouldn't be easy as the Badgers hosted the North Sequoia League's No. 1 and No. 3 teams at home. On Feb. 12, Yosemite beat Liberty 40-35 before being overrun by Washington Union 77-37 last Friday.
"We needed the win against Liberty," said coach Steve Lopez. "That was a battle very low scoring but a good win against Liberty. Union is Union. They have a lot of seniors, they are unselfish, and they seem to grab every loose ball. I thought we played well through the first half, but they came out strong in the third quarter."
Badgers defeat Liberty in a defensive struggle
The Badgers lost to Liberty (15-8, 4-4) at Madera Ranchos back on Jan. 24, 54-49. For the Badgers, It wasn't a pretty game, but in the end, YHS overcame a slow start and put the game away in the pivotal fourth quarter to down the Hawks, 40-35.
The Badger defense stifled the high scoring Hawk inside tandem of Stetson Woods and Trevor Stephens, limiting the pair to just 11 points. Woods is averaging 18.3 and Stephens 11. At Liberty, Stephens had his biggest output of the year at 21 points.
The score at half was more reminiscent of a football game with Liberty leading 14-13. It was one of the lowest scoring first half this season for Yosemite. The game stayed even up to the fourth quarter when the Badgers outscored Liberty 16-9.
Senior guard Ben Williams scored 10 points, his highest output of the season.
"Ben has been playing great," Lopez said. "Ben is able to bring the ball up in traffic and I consider him one of our best outside threats."
Kade Cross, Chase Lassos, and Jared Wood had eight, six, and five points, respectively and were key factors neutralizing Woods and Stephens. Forward Jayson Lee had seven points.
The Washington Union Panthers, Ranked No. 10 in the Central Section by the Fresno Bee, journeyed to Oakhurst last Friday. Just a few weeks ago, Union destroyed the Badgers in an 81 point outburst in Easton. While Union won by 40 points, the Badgers made the Panthers work for it at least for half the game.
Playing inspired in front of a senior night gathering, Yosemite was within five points after the first quarter and 14 at the half.
"This is by far the best Union team I have seen since I coached here," Lopez said. "They have no weaknesses. They score inside and outside. They are up-tempo and unselfish. With seven seniors they are built for a big time run in the playoffs. Still, I was happy how we hung in."
After Union started out on a 5-0 run, Yosemite's Cross and Wood scored inside. The Panthers quickly scored five straight points. Yosemite answered with two buckets by Ben Williams. A steal and bucket by Stewart Carlson cut the Union lead to 16-14. A last second 3-pointer by William Blue gave the Panthers a 19-14 lead. The Panthers hurt the Badgers from beyond the arc hitting on seven 3-point shots.
Although Union's Shakor Major began to dominate the middle in the second quarter, YHS still stayed close. Aaron Bausch hit a three-pointer and Williams drove the lane for a layup keeping the Badgers in striking distance down 26-19 with 3:10 left. From there, it was all Panthers. Union went on a 9-2 run and led 35-21 at the half. Major had 12 points and six rebounds at the half.
Whatever Panther head coach Tony Petersen said in the locker room at halftime, got his team's attention. Union came out pressing to force seven Badger turnovers on its 24-5 third quarter run that took the home crowd out of the game. By the time the dust settled, Union had a commanding 59-26 lead. The Panthers went on to outscore the Badgers 18-11 in the fourth to remain undefeated in the NSL.
Sophomore Cross led YHS with 10 points and six rebounds. Ben Williams had nine points and Wood added nine points and pulled down five rebounds. Aaron Bausch had five points hitting the only Badger 3-pointer of the night. For Union, Blue and Isaac Sears each had 17. Major had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Three Badgers played their last home game: Carlson, Ben Williams, and Wood. Each has been key contributors for YHS this season. Wood has teamed with sophomore Cross to form the YHS version of the "Twin Towers." Carlson and Williams have been solid off the bench. Most impressive are the seniors GPAs. Wood carries a 4.4 GPA, Williams a 4.3, and Carlson a 3.8.
"It has been great coaching these seniors," Lopez said. 'I couldn't have asked for a better group. They are great teammates and leaders. We will really miss them next year."
Season ends on the road
This week the Badgers hit the road playing Chowchilla last night (Wednesday) and traveling to second place Kerman tomorrow (Friday). All games will have playoff implications. Kerman and Chowchilla are probably in but Yosemite is on the bubble. The Badger's league record is good, but a strong finish at 5-5 in league might get the Badgers in. The seeding's for the Central Section playoffs will be determined Saturday, Feb. 22.
North Sequoia League standings
Washington Union (8-0, 21-5)
Kerman (5-3, 10-11)
Liberty (4-4, 15-8)
Chowchilla (3-5, 12-12)
Yosemite 3-5, 5-18)
Sierra (1-7, 4-18).