Gregg Dodderidge

Yosemite girls fall just short in Central Section final. State playoffs up next

The Yosemite High Girls Basketball team came one game short of a sixth Central Section title by falling to the Bakersfield Drillers 47-42 Friday night at Selland Arena in the Division II finals.

The CIF Central Section holds their title games under one roof. It is a venue familiar to most area residents: hallowed Selland Arena, in downtown Fresno. ‘Getting to Selland’ is the goal for virtually every Central Section basketball team at the beginning of each season. Overall, there were 10 titles to decide among five divisions. The games were played on Feb. 22 and 23.

The Badgers (26-5, 9-0) faced a Driller program with a huge school population. BHS has an enrollment of more than 2,800 students vs. YHS at 672. The Drillers (24-3, 9-1) know Selland Arena well. They were making their fourth-straight finals appearance. BHS plays in the Southwest Yosemite League.

The Badgers were not intimidated and Yosemite built an early first quarter lead. But as the game wore on, the Driller perimeter defense, athleticism, and a strong bench wore down YHS. This was a game dominated by defense. No team scored more than 14 points in any quarter. Both teams scored far below their averages.

“We started at too fast a pace early,” Badger Head Coach Gary Blate said. “We were faced with a close game and being behind in the fourth quarter. We haven’t seen that situation for quite a while.”

The Badgers came into the game on a roll. Prior to the finals loss, the Badgers were winners of 17 straight games.

YHS jumped out to an early 8-2 lead with 3s by Grace Fries and Lilly Graffigna. From there, Bakersfield ground out points inside the paint and took a 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. It was a lead they would not relinquish.

Bakersfield built a 26-21 halftime lead, limiting the Badgers to eight points in the second quarter. The Drillers stretched the lead to 33-23 lead midway through the third quarter. Blate called a time out to regroup. From there, YHS cut the lead to 34-29 with a 3-pointer by Hailey Rich and a steal and layup by Graffigna. But a 3-pointer by Driller guard Kiara Frink as time expired gave BHS a 39-29 lead.

The 10-point deficit and the Driller defense, especially on the defensive boards, was a lot for the Badgers to overcome, but the Badgers eventually closed the gap. BHS stretched the lead to 42-31 with 5:50 left, but with 3s by Fries, YHS cut the deficit to 45-39 with 1:50 left to play. A Fries three-pointer narrowed the gap to 46-42 Bakersfield with 27 seconds to go but the Drillers held on for a hard fought win.

Grace Fries led YHS with 20 points including, five three-point shots. One of the greatest shooters in YHS history, Fries leads the entire section in three-point shots scored. Fries led YHS to an early lead, but the Driller perimeter defense made it tough for Fries to get open looks later in the game.

Lilly Graffigna had 7 points, 3 rebounds, and led YHS with 5 assists. Center Hailey Rich had 6 points and 6 rebounds. Jenna Kurz had 4 points. Sophie McGoldrick finished with a team leading 12 rebounds to go along with 3 points. Courtney Hart finished with 2 points and 6 rebounds and led YHS with 2 blocked shots.

Bakersfield stats not available at press time.

The Badgers played only seven players and it took a toll. Coach Blate said the disruption of normal practice routines and a game cancellation were factors leading up to the game. “We were weathered out of four practices and a game in the last two weeks.” Blate said. “In the fourth quarter, Bakersfield really controlled the tempo. We were fatigued but came back.” The Badgers are a well-conditioned squad. Despite being tired, YHS outscored Bakersfield 13-8 in the fourth quarter.

The loss didn’t prevent Blate from praising his seniors. “Our seniors have been around this program for four years. From their freshman year on, getting to Selland Arena for a title game was their goal. It was our first trip to the finals since 2011. It is a great accomplishment.” And it’s not over.

The Badgers will now move on the CIF Division II State Girls Basketball Championships.