An appearance in the CIF Central Section D-II championship basketball game by the No. 6 Yosemite Lady Badgers (18-12, 8-1 NSL) fell one game short, as the section’s No. 2 seed Bakersfield Drillers (23-3, 10-0 Southwest Yosemite League) beat the Badgers 56-43 in the semifinal round in Bakersfield Feb. 28.
The Lady Badgers traveled to Bakersfield five days after visiting Porterville and upsetting the No. 3 Monache High Mauraders on Feb. 23 in the second round of the playoffs.
The game against Bakersfield was played in one of the oldest continuously used gymnasiums in Central California and in front a crowd so loud that giving any instructions during play from YHS Coach Gary Blate to his players was next to impossible to hear.
For the young Badgers,whose four leading scorers are sophomores and leading rebounder a junior, the atmosphere was exciting but a bit intimidating at the same time.
After falling behind 12-10 after the first quarter, the Badgers were able to run their offense and take advantage of 5 of 6 free throw shooting to take a 26-20 lead at halftime. But the Drillers came roaring back in the third quarter outscoring Yosemite 20 to 10 to take a 40-36 lead, with all of the Drillers points coming from their top two players, junior Taylor Caldwell and sophomore Kiara Frink.
The fourth quarter proved disastrous for the Badgers, making just one field goal and five free throws compared to Bakersfield’s 16 points to end the game.
The leading scorer for the Badgers, as she was all season, was sophomore Grace Fries with 14 points. Junior Siena Oswald had one her best games of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.
Additional YHS scoring came from sophomores Sophie McGoldrick (7), Hailey Rich (6), Lilly Graffigna (2) and Linnea Leinau (1).
Bakersfield’s Caldwell was the game’s high scorer with 22 points and teammate Frink contributed 15.
After beating Yosemite, Bakersfield played Friday night at Fresno’s Selland Arena and lost to Bakersfield’s Independence High, 54-49, the No. 1 D-II seed with more than 2,000 students and now a winner of three straight Central Section titles.
Yosemite’s Oswald said the team played well in the first half, but weren’t as strong in the second half.
“They (Bakersfield) came out of the half ready to play and wanted it more than we did,” Oswald said. “I’m still proud of the season we had and we will start preparing for next season in two weeks with our club team. This team is losing just one player to graduation, and our goal for next year is to win the NSL and the section title.”
With the win over Yosemite, the Drillers moved on to play No. 1 Independence High of Bakersfield at Fresno’s Selland Arena on March 3, losing 54-49.
“The team was young and had struggled during the summer so we did not have high expectations coming into the season,” Coach Blate said. “This proved out in our 5-10 pre-season. When the players gained confidence in the team game, we transformed into a championship caliber team.”
The team ended the season ranked No. 25 in the entire Central Section and No. 6 in D-II by maxpreps.com.
It was the 13th co- or outright league championship for Blate in his 15 years with the YHS girls program.
Fries’s 14.7 points per game average placed her at No. 32 in the section and No. 6 in D-II. She scored a total of 412 points on the season, which included 48 3-pointers. She made 45% of her shots from the floor and 66% of her 3-point attempts. Her 412 points ranks her No. 7 in the school record book for points scored in a season, and No. 3 for best scoring season as a sophomore behind Katie Menton and Sydnee Fipps (both 2,000+ point career scorers).
The top scorer in the Central Section was senior Kameron Taylor of Bakersfield Christian with a 24.6 points per game average.
McGoldrick was the second leading scorer on the team with an 8.2 points per game average. She lead the team with 10 blocked shots and was third in rebounds with 179 (6.6 per game).
Graffigna and Oswald averaged close to 6 points per game and Graffigna lead the team in assists (106 - 3.7 pg) and steals (65 - 2.2 pg). Her assists placed her at No. 18 in the section and No. 4 in D-II.
Oswald was the team leader in rebounds averaging 10 a game (254) and making her the No. 16 rebounder in the section and No. 3 in D-II. She was also ranked No. 38 in the section and No. 7 in D-II for her 5 double doubles (double figures for points and rebounds in a game).
Rich was second in rebounds for the Badgers with 6.8 per game (198).
With only one senior on this year’s team, the young Badgers gained a lot of experience and motivation to improve between now and next season.
The two point guards, Graffigna and Leinau, both sophomores, now know the speed of the game and the pressure they will face in the playoffs next year. Two of the post players, juniors Oswald and Bernardi, now have a clear idea of the effort and commitment necessary to be successful next year in their final season.
The two other post players, McGoldrick and Rich, both 5-foot-10, are sophomores and have the potential to be top scorers and players next season. McGoldrick scored in double figures in five of the last seven games while Rich 70% free throw shooting ranked with the leaders in the Central Section. Both had multiple double/doubles in scoring/rebounding and have the ability to be threats both inside the key and outside the 3-point arc next season.
The two other Badger players who return next season are junior Kelsey Montalto and sophomore Trinity Curtis and both are valuable for their utility and teamwork.