The Yosemite High School girls basketball program made history twice last weekend - first, by hosting the only girls tournament in the school’s 41-year history, and then winning it.
The Lady Badgers (9-10) started the New Year with a bang by winning three games and the championship of the eight-team 2017 Winter Shootout Tournament.
Big win over No. 5 Sanger
In the tournament’s championship game, played Jan. 7, the Badgers, coached by Gary Blate, played possibly their best game of the season, beating the Sanger Apaches (12-4) 54-37.
Sanger had advanced to the championship game with wins over Kingsburg and Hoover. After leading by a point at halftime with the score 22-21, the Badgers played tough defense and dominated the the second half, scoring 32 points and holding the Apaches to single digits in the third and fourth quarter.
Four Badgers scored in double figures with the team’s leading scorer, sophomore Grace Fries, leading the way with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Fries is leading the team with 259 points (15.8 per game average) and is currently ranked No. 3 in D-II of the Central Section.
“We played more as a team tonight,” Fries said after the game. Already looking ahead to the Badger’s North Sequoia League opener at Sierra Friday, Fries added, “we are playing with more confidence as a team and we will be ready for Sierra.”
Three other players scored 10 - sophomores Sophie McGoldrick and Lilly Graffigna and junior Siena Oswald. Hailey Rich added 9 points and 6 rebounds. Rich has scored 176 points on the season (9.3 per game).
Oswald also had 19 rebounds, making her No. 3 in the school’s record book for the most rebounds in a single game. Sydnee Fipps (2010) and Veronica Miller (2014) are at the top of that list with 20 each.
Oswald is currently ranked No. 2 in the Central Section’s D-II for rebounds with 151. The No. 1 spot belongs to Hailey Scott on Monache High in Porterville with 189. Sierra’s Ressie Gonzales is third with 108.
“As a team we are starting to click,” Oswald said. “And I’m starting to get the hang of rebounding. I’m getting in better position, jumping more and being more aggressive. We are getting excited about our league opener against Sierra.”
“We played with confidence tonight,” said Graffigna, the 5-foot-4 point guard. “We will be competitive in league and we are looking forward to playing Sierra Jan. 13. I think we’ll beat them.”
McGoldrick also had 8 boards against Sanger and feels the team is ready for league play. She is currently No. 11 in D-II with 114 rebounds.
“We have a very young team and we are starting to mature and come together,” McGoldrick said. “We are starting to shoot better and the bench is stepping up. We are also practicing the little things like inbound passes and fast breaks over and over so in games we don’t have to think about them - they just become automatic.”
The three wins in the tournament should move the Badgers up from last week’s No. 11 ranking in D-II.
Badgers open tourney with 49-47 win over Bullard
The Badgers opened the tournament with Bullard High (6-7), the 2,540 student Fresno school who had an earlier win over Mission Oak, the No. 1 team in D-III.
Yosemite jumped out to a 35-23 first half lead behind 11 points from both Fries and McGoldrick.
The Knights defense stiffened in the second half, but Yosemite was able to hold on for a 49-47 victory. Fries and McGoldrick finished with 14 and 13 points respectively, with Oswald pulling down 18 rebounds.
YHS defeats No. 4 Madera
While many teams hosting a tournament attempt to arrange the bracket in order to make the finals, the tough win over Bullard put the Badgers in a second round game against the highest ranking team in the tournament, Madera High (11-5). The Coyotes, with 2,162 students, were ranked No. 3 in the Central Section’s D-III division (No. 12 in the entire Central Section) and had a recent victory over Redwood, the No. 4 team in D-II.
Madera lost to Mission Oak last year in the D-III finals. Because of a competitive equity formula employed by the CIF, the Yosemite girls basketball team, with 711 students, along with league foe Sierra High, with 458 students, compete in Division II, the second largest division, and are by far the two smallest public schools in the division both in the Central CIF and statewide. Madera won its first game of the tournament 47-43 in overtime over Fresno.
Competitive equity aside, the Badgers started the game in a familiar pattern and were up 24-16 at halftime. This time the Coyote onslaught was effective and the game was tied 43-43 after regulation. Madera was down a point at the last second of overtime when a foul was called against the Badgers on rebound.
The Coyotes only made one of the attempts to force the game into a second overtime. After Fries, McGoldrick and Oswald had fouled out, sophomores Lilly Graffigna and Hailey Rich scored 7 points and the Badgers pulled off a 55-50 win.
Four Badgers scored in double figures with Oswald leading the way at 15 points and 11 rebounds. Rich finished with 12 points while Graffigna had 11 and Fries 10.
The exciting win put the Badgers in the championship game of the tournament against the 12-4 Sanger Apaches, with 2852 students and the No. 5 team in D-III.
Eight of the 12 games in the competitive tournament were decided late in the fourth quarter or in overtime.
League opener against Sierra Friday at home
North Sequoia League action begins on Friday with Yosemite hosting Sierra at home with the girls game at 6 p.m. and the boys varsity game following at 7:30 p.m.. The girls JV game is at 3:30 p.m. and the boys JV teams start at 4:45 p.m..
In the Central Section, the Lady Chieftains are ranked No. 6 in D-III and Yosemite is currently ranked No. 11 in D-II.
Sierra’s scoring is led by two juniors, 5-foot-8 Hannah Gilreath (11.2 points per game) and 5-foot-1 point guard Taylor Barcus (10 points per game). Barcus has 33 assists on the season and Autumn Barcus has 59 steals.
Rebounding duties are handled by two seniors, 5-foot-9 center Ressie Gonzalez (9 per game) and 6-foot forward Hayly Day (7.2 per game).
The two teams have won or shared the league championship every year since 2003.
Blate joins elite list of girls coaches
With Blate’s recent 300th win as coach of the Yosemite girls team, he has joined the “Top 10” list of girls coaches in the Central Section with 300 wins according to section historian Bob Barnett. His win-loss record with the girls at Yosemite now stands at 303-134.
Doug White of Corcoran has the most wins (447-199). Only three coaches on the list are still active including Blate, White and Cathy Lauritzen at Sierra.
A win at Sierra Friday would give Blate his 500th overall win as a basketball coach, including his four years coaching the YHS boys and 12 years in Anaheim coaching girls at Loara High School. His overall win-loss record stands at 499-342 (winning percentage 69%).
Blate’s girls teams have won or shared 12 league championships in 14 seasons and he has taken YHS to seven Central Section title games, winning four times.