Through three quarters of its Feb. 26 CIF Central Section D-II quarterfinals playoff game against No. 1 seed Redwood (23-4) of Visalia, the No. 8 seed Yosemite High girls basketball team (16-15) nearly pulled off the upset of the week.
The tenacious Lady Badgers had the top ranked Redwood squad on its heels, leading 31-30 at the end of the three quarters - a lead Yosemite could not hold onto over the last eight minutes of the game, losing 51-42.
This was the third year in a row that the Yosemite team has faced the No. 1 ranked team prior to the finals. Two years ago, the Badgers went to Bakersfield to play at Garces, which went on to win the section D-II championship. Last season it was back to Bakersfield to play Independence, which also went on to win the D-II title.
This season, the Yosemite girls had been playing better late in the season, winning eight straight going into the playoffs.
Redwood featured one of the top scorers in the section in 6-foot-1 Madison Kast, a senior averaging 19 points a game - and earning a D-1 college scholarship to Montana State.
The Rangers also had a top guard in 5-foot-6 junior Samantha Navarro averaging nearly 15 points a game. In their prior two games, Kast scored 36 and 24 points while Navarro had 20 and 10. According to Coach Gary Blate, the Badger game plan was to prevent Kast from getting the ball in shooting position.
The Badgers came into the contest averaging about 40 points a game and playing a tough zone defense. Yosemite started five seniors with the two post players being 5-foot-8 Tracy Robesky and 5-foot-7 Lynette Combs.
The Badgers height was in the trio of 5-foot-9 perimeter players Allie Stearns, Ashlee Harrell, and Jessica Fine. Towards the end of the season, these three were successful in preventing 3-point shots and easy entry passes. The result was the senior starters helped turn the season around after the Badgers entered North Sequoia League action with a mediocre 7-12 record.
The game plan worked, as the Badgers controlled Kast and Navarro early in the game and outscored Redwood in the first two quarters 9-8 and 12-8, taking a 21-16 lead at halftime. The Rangers made up four of those points in the third quarter but Yosemite still held that slim 31-30 lead going into the final period.
Fourth quarter turnovers and fouls hurt
The lead changed back and forth for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, but a couple of Badger turnovers and fouls put the Rangers in position to pull away. After Stearns, the Badgers leading scorer/rebounder fouled out with two minutes to go, the Rangers and their fans could finally relax. She finished with nine points.
Leading scorer for Yosemite was Combs with a career high 13 points. She hit a couple mid-range jumpers, a 3-point shot and a couple of inside baskets to help keep the Badgers on top for the first three quarters.
Hailey Rich, a 5-foot-10 freshman, had a tough time shooting over the taller Kast but finished with 11 rebounds.
The five seniors ended their Yosemite careers on high note, giving the top ranked team a very tough game. The next five Badgers to play were freshman as the two sophomore centers were injured and could not play.
Sophomore Sienna Oswald, 5-foot-10, was leading the league in rebounding but broke her finger in practice after a big victory over Sierra and was anxiously awaiting the removal of her cast in time for the next game if the Badgers could win the Redwood game.
Another 5-foot-10 sophomore who had been contributing minutes, Allison Bernardi, has been ill for the past three weeks, so freshman players Sophie McGoldrick, 5-foot-10, and 5-foot-7 Grace Fries had been playing valuable minutes along with 5-foot-1 frosh point guard Lilly Graffigna.
Another frosh guard, Linnea Leinau, had been pulled up from the JV team along with sophomore guard Kelsey Montalto.
With the Feb. 24 opening round 47-36 win over Selma, the 16 Yosemite victories this season match the lowest win total in Blate’s 14 seasons with the girls varsity.
Given the depth, size, skill, and motivation of these underclass players, the Badgers have high hopes for the next few seasons.
Badger Notes: In the 14 seasons under the leadership of Blate, 19 Badgers have gone on to play college basketball including Katie Menton (Pepperdine University), Sydney Fipps (University of California, Davis), 2015 graduate Mattaya Brown, and 2014 graduate Kaley Mumm, who both played at Reedley Community College this season.
The Yosemite girls basketball banquet will be 6 p.m. Monday, March 14, in the Yosemite High cafeteria.
Yosemite High Correspondent