The No. 9 seed Minarets Mustangs (9-15, 5-5 WSL) boys basketball season came to an end Feb. 23 at the hands of a familiar foe in the first round of the Central Section D-V playoffs, losing to the No. 8 seed Sierra Chieftains (7-19, 3-7 NSL) 70-47.
The Chieftains moved on to the Feb. 25 quarter finals where they lost to No. 1 seed Kern Valley 83-74.
Against Sierra, the Mustangs took a 32-30 lead into the locker room at the half, behind strong play of Mason Ellis under the rim.
The second half was a different story as the Chieftains, coached by Anthony Patino, dropped 3-pointers in bunches to open the third period. Three straight Sierra 3-pointers put the Mustangs in a hole they couldn’t climb out of as the Chieftains went on to exploit Minarets’ weakness covering the outside shot.
As Minarets Coach Paul Varner extended his defense, Sierra found lapses in the Mustangs inside coverage taking full advantage, scoring several high percentage points in the paint to bury the Mustangs before the fourth period started.
It was a painful end to a season which saw the Mustangs play their best ball at the end of league play.
Ellis was peaking at the right time, as he averaged 30 points a game down the stretch, and the Mustangs were converting free throws at their best percentage of the year.
But it wasn’t enough as the Chieftains displayed a patient game plan that found the weaknesses of the Mustangs following their halftime break.
The team will lose four seniors, Ellis, Caanine Fausone, Kaleb Fausone, and Jacob Fredrick. It will be tough to replace Ellis and his game-changing abilities, although Grant Denny, standing 6-foot-7 is working hard to be a bigger part of the offense next year. The junior is planning on attending camps during the off season with hopes of becoming an impact player for the Mustangs. At times Denny showed flashes of the player he is working to become with several blocked shots on the season.
Varner will return six juniors and should have a well-seasoned group of players going into next season. A handful of sophomores will move up, including Preston Conti. The forward scored 32 points in the Mustangs last game against Parlier.
The No. 3 seed, Tranquillity, was knocked off early by Fresno Christian, a team the Mustangs beat twice in league play. Minarets also beat Tranquillity early in pre-season play.
Fresno Christian will face No. 10 seeded Strathmore in the semifinals, as Kern Valley plays No. 5 seed Riverdale, a team the Mustangs lost to 64-61 Feb.16.