FRESNO — This was not a game Bakersfield was just happy to be in.
The Drillers’ eyes were never wide, and they didn’t want to hear about the consolation prize of being the first Kern County Division I boys team to reach Selland Arena since the Central Section basketball championships moved there in 2005.
No, sir. No, ma’am. These Drillers wanted to win.
In the end, it was Fresno-Central repeating as champion in a 69-58 win over the Drillers.
“We battled. We played hard,” BHS coach Greg Burt said. “We represented our town. I am proud of them. It’s obviously something we want to get back to and play better. We will work on that.”
Central, athletic and long, opened the game with a 17-9 lead in the first quarter.
“The size they have really bothered us,” Burt said. “The kids played really hard. We didn’t have a great start.”
Central (20-6) did have a sizable height advantage against BHS.
Kobe Foster (6-foot-5), Cam’Ron Wilson (6-5) and Jahmai Bentley (6-4) all seemed to tower over the guard-heavy Drillers.
Foster (10 points), Bartley (14), Cash Williams (16) and Wilson, who had game-high totals of 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Grizzlies, scored 57 of Central’s 69 points.
But, like BHS (21-11) has done all season, the defense stepped up, disrupting the Grizzlies’ flow, and BHS led at the half 33-31 as Tyler Herring scored nine of his 16 points in the opening half.
“Going into halftime, we had a little run and they had theirs,” Herring said. “We felt pretty confident, but we made mistakes. And when we do, we have a hard time coming back.”
BHS turned the ball over 21 times, but Central had 23 turnovers.
“We went in at halftime with a lead and I really thought we would come out in the second half and play better than we did, but we just didn’t,” Burt said.
In a sloppy game, it came down to which team made the most of its chances. And it was Central doing just that in the second half.
Bartley scored 12 of his 14 in the second half, and Central was 24 of 32 at the line, compared to just 8 of 12 for the Drillers.
“We made a lot of turnovers, but we came back with our hustle,” BHS senior Jeremiah Dickerson said. “I really don’t regret what we did. We gave it our all. As long as you give it your all, the result doesn’t matter; what matters is how hard you fight as a team. I think we did OK.”
But to win a D-I boys basketball title, OK sometimes isn’t good enough. The Drillers have five contributors, including guards Ronnie Stapp (10 points), Tahj Wright (10) and R.J. Banks returning next season.
Getting the the D-I title was a feat of history. BHS was the last D-I team from Kern to play in a D-I title game in 2004. “I’ve been at BHS for a while,” Burt said. “Every time the Division I championship comes up, that’s been the subject. No one’s made it. So, it’s finally good that we got rid of at least that. But we still have business to take care of.”
BHS, like the five other county teams that played in divisional championships on Friday, will find out where and whom it is matched up against in the state playoffs this afternoon when the CIF State Regional brackets are released.
The state committee has the option of placing teams from the section to either the Northern California or the SoCal brackets.