Golden Valley girls basketball coach Curt Wilson knew he was going to cry at the conclusion of his team’s Central Section Division III semifinal game against visiting Selma on Wednesday night.
The only question was, would they be tears of sadness or joy?
As it turned out, Wilson was a very happy man after No. 2 Golden Valley downed the third-seeded Bears 78-55 to earn its first-ever berth in the “Valley” finals.
The Bulldogs will play No. 4 Fresno-Immanuel for the D-III title in Fresno at Selland Arena on Saturday.
“When I hugged my wife, and when I hugged a couple of the young ladies that I’ve been in this journey with since they’ve been in sixth grade, I got emotional,” Wilson said. “You can’t buy this. You only earn it and we had to work hard. We had some heartbreaking losses to some really good teams this year. But it prepared us for this moment and I’m just so proud of these young ladies.”
Senior guard Taja Holliday Ball scored a career-high 32 points to lift Golden Valley past a scrappy Selma squad.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 12 points in the first half before the Bears (22-10) made it a one-point game on Madison Mares’ 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:54 remaining in the third quarter.
But after that, Golden Valley (26-6) amped up the defensive pressure and went on a 16-2 run to pull away for good.
“We don’t make it to 'Valley' without (all the girls that have played in this program over the years),” Wilson said. “We’re going to carry them with us when we go to Selland Arena. I feel sorry for who plays us because they may have 12 on their team but we got about 60 girls. Every single girl that played at Golden Valley did this.”
The Bulldogs’ aggressive full-court defensive effort netted 24 steals, leading to numerous transition layups.
Golden Valley’s high-scoring performance was also due to some hot long-range shooting down the stretch.
Elyssa Brumfield made a trio of 3-pointers including a bomb from the right corner with 1:54 left in the game that extended the Bulldogs lead to 72-52.
The senior forward finished with 19 points and five steals.
Freshman guard Audrey Gonzalez paced Selma in scoring with 22 points.
After falling behind 4-2 early, Golden Valley took a 6-4 lead on Holliday Ball’s steal and layup just two and a half minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs, who with the win, improved to 10-1 in their last 11 games, led the rest of the way.
“If we play like a team we can get anything done," Holliday Ball said. “Defense makes a good offense so we just made it happen.”
Golden Valley saved its best for last, out-scoring the Bears 28-14 in the fourth quarter.
“All season we’ve prided ourselves on being pythons,” Wilson said. “Once we figure out what a team is going to do, we just start to squeeze in and squeeze in and squeeze in the gap. Eventually we go on defensive runs.”
Golden Valley’s 26 wins this year is a school record.
“It’s tough for us being on this side of town because sometimes we don’t get the respect that other people get,” Wilson said. “We had to earn it.”