FRESNO — Bakersfield High girls basketball coach Rashaan Shehee always gets nervous when he has to put senior point guard Taylor Caldwell on the bench. It’s not even because he’s sidelining his leading scorer, he said.
“It’s just to keep us calm,” Shehee said of what is missing when Caldwell is not on the court. “She keeps the team calm and she keeps me calm, most importantly.”
The Drillers couldn’t have been at ease when Caldwell sat down with four fouls in the first minute of the fourth quarter and Tulare-Mission Oak suddenly cut the 10-point BHS lead to one.
Caldwell eventually returned with about four minutes left in the game and hit two crucial shots to help No. 1 BHS (20-4) beat No. 3 Mission Oak (23-7), 54-52, for the Central Section Division II championship at Selland Arena in Fresno on Friday. The Drillers redeemed their section title game trip from one year ago, which ended in a loss to Independence.
“It’s so sweet,” Caldwell said. “We came last year and we didn't get the W and we felt that pain. We felt that hurt (during) all the workouts, all the games, all the practices. … It’s such a relief.”
Caldwell led BHS with 20 points. She also had six rebounds and three assists. Drillers forward Cienna Hayes scored all 12 of her points in the first half.
The win gave BHS its third win over Mission Oak this season. The first two matchups were decided, 56-42, and 63-45, respectively.
“That really scared me because when you beat a team a couple times, you know they're gonna come out and make some adjustments,” Shehee said. “They’re very well coached. Coach made some adjustment and they made the game very difficult for us.”
BHS built a 15-8 lead in the first quarter and was up 27-21 at half. The Drillers went inside to Hayes, who took advantage of a smaller defender when coming off the bench.
Hayes was 4-for-7 from the field and 4-for-6 from the free throw line in the first half. She also had five rebounds.
“If you’re little, I’m gonna post up on you and I’m gonna take you to the basket,” Hayes said.
Shehee said Hayes could be a starter but played her role well.
The third quarter was all Caldwell. She scored 10 of BHS’ 17 points.
But in the first 22 seconds of the fourth quarter, Caldwell picked up two fouls and came out of the game. The Drillers were up 44-34 at the time.
Mission Oak’s Jada Muller hit three 3-pointers and helped the Hawks cut it to, 47-46.
“I put us in the position,” Caldwell said. “I got silly fouls that almost cost us the game, but we fought hard, everybody on the team, and we pulled it out.”
Caldwell managed a layup to put BHS up 50-46 with 2:15 left and then hit a jumper in the lane to put the Drillers ahead 52-49.
BHS’ McKenna Hsiung made two free throws with 8.6 seconds left to give the Drillers a four-point advantage and essentially seal the game.
In the last film session for BHS before the section title game, Shehee showed his team the final few minutes of the championship game loss from last season. The players saw their own comeback and their own defeat. The tears on the video elicited tears from some of the Drillers players as they watched.
This time around, the feeling was much different.
“The moment still hasn't hit me,” Shehee said. “I’m sure it’ll hit me later, sitting in the car by myself and I’ll probably yell out a few words.”
Bakersfield 54, Tulare-Mission Oak 52
BHS (20-4): Caldwell 20, Hsiung 8, Johnson 4, Linzie 7, Frink 3, Hayes 12.
MOHS (23-7): Elzy 12, Muller 15, Fernandes 11, Lopez 7, Matlock 5, Caballero 2.