The No. 3 seed Minarets girls basketball team (19-5) advanced to the semifinals of the Central Section D-V playoffs with wins last week over No. 14 seed Laton (10-16), and No. 6 Fowler (16-12), 51-32, and 50-37 respectively.
The Mustangs travel to face the West Sequoia League champions, and No. 2 seed Caruthers Blue Raiders (22-7) at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 2.
In earlier games against Caruthers this season, Minarets lost twice - 53-48 on Jan. 15, and 63-32 on Feb. 5.
In the second game against Caruthers, the Mustangs shot 22% from the perimeter and 11% from behind the arc, both season lows, while all 11 players scored for Caruthers.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will advance to Friday’s 2 p.m. D-V championship game at Selland Arena in Fresno, playing the winner of the No. 1 seed Memorial and No. 4 seed Kern Valley contest.
In the Minarets-Caruthers second meeting, the Mustangs missed several easy put-backs under the rim, and the three Mustang assists were a season low.
The Blue Raiders also controlled the boards holding Minarets to 19 rebounds on the defensive side and 10 on the offensive side of the court.
At the free throw line the Mustangs converted 9-of-16 in one of the few bright spots on the game.
Mustang center Kristy Berry was held to four points in the game, well below her 11 point average.
Usually quite solid on the boards, Minarets was out rebounded and out hustled in the Feb. 5 game. The Blue Raiders put up 49 shots in the game, not including their 21 trips to the free throw line, only converting eight.
The Mustangs will need a well balanced attack to defeat the Blue Raiders, as they tend to “box and one” a team’s hottest shooter. Danielle Johnson may be turn out to be the key - in the Fowler game Johnson penetrated the paint over and over, converting key shots in the final period to keep Fowler from closing the gap.
The Blue Raiders enjoy a deep bench with little falloff when substituting. Blue Raider Andraya Loera scored 17 points, including five 3-pointers in the second match-up, and each of Caruthers 11 players scored in the teams last meeting.
Along with Loera the Mustangs will have to contain freshman Destiny Giles, Jaque Magana, and senior Jordan Bairos. The trio combined for 21 points shooting from the paint as well as outside the key.
Win or lose, it is nearing the end for a group of girls that have been playing organized ball together for seven years - Kamalani, Thomasian, Danielle Johnson, Pearson, and Delaney Reardon played varsity as freshman, taking many lumps along the way.
They have come a long way from the 45-4 thumping they took as freshman at the hands of Immanuel on the way to a 1-13 season. Chamberlain transferred from Yosemite High in her sophomore year.
They have paid the price for their success, sacrificing their bodies along the way. Chamberlain, Pearson, and Reardon all required knee surgery, with Reardon having a second surgery for a broken ankle suffered during last season.
And who better to enjoy the success then head coach Kamalani and assistant coach Christie Pearson, the two were with the group as youth players and took over the team this season.
Wins over Laton and Fowler
Against the Laton Mustangs last week, Chamberlain hit 5-of-7 3-pointers to lead her team with 18 points. Guard Danielle Johnson scored 13, Patricia Thomasian 8, Kelea Kamalani 6, Kristy Berry 4, Ellery Meade 2, and Madi Pearson 1. Berry had 8 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Against Fowler, the Mustangs held a comfortable 24-15 lead at the break but the Redcats came out motivated in the third quarter to cut the lead to four points (32-28). But in the fourth period, Minarets outscored Fowler 18-9.
“Being the fifth time playing Fowler, we knew it was going to be a physical game, and through the season we could see improvement in them every time we played them,” said coach Dee Kamalani. “They got in foul trouble and our girls stepped up and made clutch free throws when they needed to go along with some great defense.”
Three Mustangs scored in double figures - Berry (12), Kamalani (11), and Thomasian (10). Chamberlain added eight, including one 3-pointer. Danielle Johnson added 7 and sister Sydney 1. It was a different game offensively for the Mustangs with only four attempts from the 3 point line.
Berry was solid inside, collecting 23 rebounds, 17 on defense as the Mustangs hauled down 52 rebounds in the game.