Where to begin?
From the first game I saw at the Lloyd Williams Kern Schools Shootout at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, to the championship game with a crowd nearing 1,500 on Saturday night, the action was bookend by two great performances and plenty of others in between.
Over the four-day boys basketball tournament, that really showcased how beautiful and spacious the new gym at North is, there was a lot to take away. The 16-team competition came to a close Saturday night, as Bakersfield High utilized a 17-1 fourth-quarter run to beat Liberty 64-58 for the championship.
First off, the Drillers solidified themselves as the top team in Kern County and a big-time favorite to make another run to Selland Arena this season.
The team’s offense looked anemic at times, but the defense kept it in the win column — BHS picked up victories over Porterville-Monache, Bakersfield Christian, Garces and the Patriots during the four-day tournament.
And when it mattered most, leaders like Ronnie Stapp (who, for me, had his best two-game stretch of his high school career in the semifinals and finals), Tahj Wright and R.J. Banks came up clutch on offense.
That’s what makes the Drillers so dangerous.
And what Liberty did in the opening three rounds of the tournament, and the first 15 minutes of the finals, showed how good of a team the Patriots are as well.
First off, Isaiah Hill played like a MVP from start to finish.
He was electric in the Patriots’ win over Foothill on Wednesday. Hill lit up Golden Valley for 31 points on Thursday and, when you thought he was done, his best performance came with 34 points against Ridgeview in Friday's semifinals.
Yes, BHS's defense kept Hill from scoring over 25 for a fourth straight game during the championship. But the junior still hit a big 3-pointer to cut the lead to two with a minute left, during a run where nothing went right for the Patriots.
Liberty doesn't just start and end with Hill, either.
Kadar Waller is one of the county's top true point guards. The junior recorded double-digit assist performances against Foothill and Ridgeview and was the offensive catalyst in the first half against BHS.
Senior transfer Javier Gallardo from Chavez brings a big post presence for the Patriots that will be key in the playoffs later this season.
Overall, both teams impressed.
Other tournament tidbits
Ridgeview showed its might with a big second half to beat Garces in the third-place game.
Despite losing three starters to graduation, including Cal State Bakersfield freshman guard Justin McCall and BVarsity Player of the Year Jordan Roberts, the Wolf Pack are back.
Led by seniors L.J. Zeigler, Harold Hartdige, Rohan Birch and Shawn Gementera, Ridgeview looks like the favorite in the South Yosemite League again.
That’s going to be a fun league race with Independence. The Falcons got a big performance out of sophomore Josh Codamon (22 points off six 3-pointers) in their consolation championship win over Foothill. They grabbed the victory despite playing without senior guard Elijah Carter, who suffered an ankle injury on Thursday and is likely out two weeks.
Then there is the fabulous freshman class at BCHS, led by Seth Marantos and Lendl Henderson.
At Garces, freshman Izaac Martinez and J.J. Uphold played well beyond their years, as well.
The future looks bright for Kern County basketball. If you're like me, there's a lot to look forward to entering league play in January.