Bakersfield High coach Rashaan Shehee admits he was lying to himself and anyone around him that would listen.
After his Drillers girls basketball team sat around for two weeks waiting to play since the end of the regular season, the time off appeared to affect the Drillers early on during Wednesday's Central Section Division II semifinal against Shafter.
BHS would eventually pull away on its homecourt, however, beating the Generals 57-39.
The win sets up a second consecutive trip to the D-II finals for BHS. The team will play Tulare-Mission Oak at Selland Arena on Saturday, with tip off scheduled for 6 p.m.
Last year, Bakersfield High lost in the section championship to Independence.
“They were a tad bit rusty. I was trying to talk myself out of it,” Shehee said. “But they were rusty. They played with good energy, but everything was just a little off.”
Shafter jumped out to a 9-2 lead midway through the first quarter in front of a near-capacity crowd. Shafter filled in more than half of the stands, giving both teams a big rooting section.
“It was a great atmosphere. A great environment,” Shehee said. “It was old-school. It was great for the girls. They haven’t had it all year. It was fun for them and the way I wanted it.”
After Shafter took a 19-13 lead midway through the second quarter, BHS (19-4) outscored the Generals 39-16 the rest of the way.
The loss snapped a 23-game winning streak for Shafter (24-3).
“I knew as a team we had it in us to go all four quarters, but they can run,” Shafter coach Shawn Pennel said. “They are a good team. We’ve got to give it to them. We are young. We’ll be back. But it is a little disappointing for sure, but the girls gave it their all.”
Sophomore guard Monica Birruetta led Shafter with 12 points and senior forward Vada Lewis added 10.
BHS senior Taylor Caldwell, who signed to play at Grand Canyon next season, was rusty to start off like the rest of the Drillers.
Caldwell scored just two points in the first half, but said a pep talk at halftime helped her and the entire team. The Drillers received byes in the first two postseason rounds, as just seven teams make up the D-II bracket.
“Yeah, those two weeks out got us,” said Caldwell, who scored a game-high 16 points. “But we stuck through. We just had to come down, slow down and play our game.”
Shehee said over the last two weeks he played the tape of the Drillers' 54-49 loss in the D-II finals last season to remind them of how painful that defeat was.
“We’ve been prepared for this moment since that day,” Caldwell said. “We’ve been fighting with the same hurt that we felt. But now that we have the experience, I think we are going to be good.”
The top six scorers from last season returned for BHS, giving the Drillers a strong base to work on to get back to the section finals. McKenna Hsiung scored nine of her 12 points in the first half, Kiara Frink added 11 points, and Taylor Linzie added seven for the Drillers.
But the addition of forward Ciannah Hayes, a transfer from Stockdale, has given the Drillers an extra edge inside. Hayes scored eight points and pulled down double-digit rebounds in the semifinals.
“That was the missing piece,” Shehee said. “That fire and intensity that you can see when she is out there, it’s immediate once she steps on the court. She may make mistakes here and there, but she is making them (competing at) 110 percent.”