Tod Denison remembers Dec. 5 as the turning point for this season's Garces High girls basketball team.
It was a 41-34 loss at Morro Bay, and it was the Rams' third loss in four games.
"We had a long sit-down after that game," Denison said.
"We looked like a bunch of individuals. Then overnight, it changed. We seemed like we got over that."
The next day, the Rams won by 30. A week later, they had a rematch with Morro Bay. "We beat them by 35," Denison said.
The top-seeded Rams (29-3) haven't lost since that Morro Bay game and carry a 25-game winning streak into today's Central Section Division II title game vs. third-seeded Tulare Western (21-6) at 6 p.m. in Fresno's Selland Arena.
That is the final game involving a Kern County team in the two-day event, which concludes with six games on Saturday.
Prior to the Garces-Tulare Western matchup, Kern Valley faces Reedley-Immanuel in both the girls and boys D-V finals, starting at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.
Garces is seeking its second girls section championship. Last year, the Rams reached the finals but were routed by Ridgeview, 65-38.
Playoff losses to Yosemite two seasons ago and to Hanford in the 2011 finals dashed the Rams' recent championship dreams.
"We've had some tough matchups in the past," Denison said.
Tulare Western, from the East Yosemite League, has not been a frequent finals participant.
"Hopefully, since our girls played (at Selland) last year it'll come a little easier," Denison said.
Unlike many of Garces' past teams, the Rams have a deeper bench this season, Denison said.
Quality transfers Rhiana Dougan (from Centennial) and Chenoa Beruman (from North) have helped.
"I remember the Hanford game, when we had only seven girls on the team. But we've had seven or eight who play a lot this year, so we're a lot tougher."
Garces is led by sophomore 6-foot-3 center C.J. West, averages 14.2 points, 14.3 rebounds and four blocks a game. She is frequently double-teamed.
"If teams want to double C.J., we have players who can make you pay," Denison said.
"It would mean a lot," West said of the Rams winning the championship. "My sisters came very close to getting rings, but my closest sister (in age), Rachol, she never got one. So it would be like I was winning it for my whole family. And it would make the school so proud."
Rachol West was the only senior on last year's Garces squad.
Tulare Western's top player is Dashayla Johnson, who averages 24.9 points per game.
Broncs' unique status
The Broncs are in their first season in the Central Section. They were members of the five-team High Desert League that moved out of the CIF Southern Section.
Kern Valley's girls (16-6) and boys (15-10) both face Reedley-Immanuel. "It's a good buzz here. Everyone is real fired up," said Kern Valley's first-year girls coach Bill Gallis.
Kern Valley will have a minimum day today so its student body, faculty and administration can travel to Fresno for both games. A rooter bus sold out before 10 a.m. the day those tickets became available.
Both teams have reached heights Kern Valley hasn't seen in decades.
Two years ago, the girls team won a league title but lost in the first round of the Southern Section playoffs.
"We had not won a league title for 20 years before that," Gallis said.
The Kern Valley boys won a playoff game in 2006, said coach Brian Christianson, who's in his 14th season. "Before that we hadn't won one in 20 years," he said.
Kern Valley has embraced its new Central Section home despite a condition of membership that did not allow any home playoff games during the first three years.
The Broncs' boys lucked into a home playoff game this season when Paramount Academy from Delano couldn't secure a home gym and had to visit Kern Valley.
"We're glad to play schools more like us and not play the private schools, which dominate the smaller schools in the Southern Section," Christianson said.
"In the Central Section there are a lot of farming town teams, similar teams to us," Gallis said. "We feel like we can compete."
The Gallis family will have a heavy impact today.
The coach's daughter, sophomore Rebecca Gallis, leads the girls team in scoring (22.9), rebounds (7.7) and steals (5.5). Marissa Witten averages 9.1 points and 3.3 assists.
Dalton Gallis, a junior who is Bill Gallis' son, averages 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Cody Little, a 6-foot-3 center, averages nine points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Guard Jordan Gould averages 11 points and 6-foot-6 Dillon Lingenfelter is a presence inside.