Defending West Sequoia League girls basketball champions Caruthers (9-5, 1-0 WSL), opened league play on its home court Jan. 15 with a five point win over the Minarets Mustangs (10-4, 0-1), 53-48.
The Blue Raiders, thought to be in a rebuilding year starting three freshman, jumped out to a 14-9 lead and they would hold the lead until 3:40 remaining in the second quarter when Mustang Danielle Johnson sank a free throw to tie the game at 22. Caruthers was up 27-22 at the half.
The Mustangs found themselves in foul trouble early, with center Kristy Berry picking up her third foul at the end of the second quarter. It would be costly as the junior was handcuffed for much of the remainder of the physical game, with the Blue Raiders dominating the boards and putting in numerous second attempts for field goals.
Minarets again tied the score 50 seconds into the third period as Johnson drained one from outside to tie the game at 27-27.
The teams would battle throughout the third quarter with the lead changing several times. Caruthers took full advantage driving the lane as the Mustangs defended loosely due to foul trouble.
Mustang senior Kelea Kamalani kept the Blue Raiders at bay hitting big shots in the closing minutes of the third quarter, which ended with the Mustangs up by one, 36-35.
Possession after possession, the Mustangs would convert the tough shot just to give up an easy bucket in the paint by Caruthers. The game was again tied at 46 each with 2:30 remaining in the game, and at 48-48 with 50 seconds left following a 12-foot turnaround jumper by Berry.
With 20 seconds left, the Blue Raiders again converted an easy basket from center Jordan Bairos who had 18 points on the night. Bairos took advantage of the loose game being called by the refs, sending Mustangs to the ground following rebounds over the back.
The Mustangs did not shoot well under the rim, and made just one of five free throws, while Caruthers was 16 of 22 from the line.
Caruthers held the Mustangs to a season low 20 rebounds.
Berry finished the game with 18 points, and Kamalani had 16, including four 3-pointers.
“I’m extremely proud of my girls and how they played through the adversity that we faced in this physical game,” said Coach Dee Kamalani. “We will work hard in practice and look forward to playing Caruthers Feb. 5.”
Prior to the game, the Mustangs were ranked No. 3 in the Central Section for D-V schools by maxpreps.com, and the Blue Raiders were No. 5. After the game, Caruthers moved to No. 2, while Minarets remained at No. 3.
The Mustangs played Fowler Tuesday (score not available at press time), and will host Parlier (0-7, 0-1 WSL) Friday.