The way the Centennial girls basketball team sees it, youth is no longer an excuse.
That was the message after a Golden Hawks team that has just two seniors and two juniors on its roster held on to defeat Bakersfield High, 39-35, on Tuesday at Centennial.
"I have full confidence in this group," Golden Hawks coach Clayton Madden said. "They're young on paper, but they're veterans at heart."
Alyssa Gonzales, a sophomore, led all scorers with 13 points and hit two key free throws in the final 20 seconds to extend Centennial's lead to 37-32.
"It's big for us," Gonzales said. "We know they had a chance to win the league title, and it's nice that they don't have that chance anymore."
Alliyah Carcha hit a 3-pointer for Bakersfield with 10 seconds left, and the Drillers (16-13, 7-2 SWYL) got the ball back down 2 in the final seconds. But Taylor Madden, a freshman who had nine points and 10 rebounds, came up with a big block and rebound and hit two more free throws to seal it for Centennial (15-6, 6-3).
"We've aged a lot this year," Clayton Madden said. "We've played a lot of close games, won some and lost some."
Bakersfield's loss, combined with Stockdale's 86-26 victory at Frontier, clinched the outright SWYL title for Stockdale.
The real battle has been for second. The last time Bakersfield and Centennial played, the Golden Hawks jumped to a big lead in the first half and then squandered it all in a 36-34 loss at Bakersfield.
This time, the Golden Hawks outscored the Drillers 16-5 in the first quarter and quickly gave it all back on a 12-0 BHS run in the second.
"It was kind of like, 'They're doing it again,'" Gonzales said. "But we said, 'We can't let them do this.'"
Bakersfield, which was missing starter Andria Barber due to an injury, took a couple of leads, the last on a Kylah McMillon 3-pointer midway through the third quarter.
"We changed up our defense, dropped back into a zone," BHS coach Jimmy Henry said. "We tried to play tough-nosed defense."
Tiana Henry led the Drillers with nine points.
The teams traded leads until back-to-back 3-pointers from Gonzales and sophomore Rhiana Dougan over that zone gave Centennial a little cushion heading to the fourth quarter.
The Golden Hawks stretched the lead to as many as nine before Bakersfield began its final push.
A young team might have folded. But this Centennial team, with the Central Section playoffs a week away, no longer sees itself that way.
"I'll take this young group into the Valley and we'll fight," Clayton Madden said.