When Firebaugh’s Jennifer Santos stepped to the free throw line and sunk two foul shots with 3.4 seconds left, she also sunk East Bakersfield’s season.
East, the No. 1 seed, had fought back from a 13-point hole in the third quarter but was called for a three seconds in the key violation on offense while down by two points with 10 seconds left.
Santos’ two foul shots for No. 5 Firebaugh (22-8) made it 55-51. A last-second heave from East (15-13) that would have changed the score but not the outcome fell short. A win would have put the Blades in the Central Section Division V girls basketball championship game and given East a shot at its first section title. Instead, the season was cut short by the Eagles.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” East head coach Bobby Sharp said. “It’s been 31 years since we’ve won a league championship. We’ve never hosted a playoff game. We’ve never been ranked No. 1. We’ve never been seeded. We’ve never done anything. So everything we did this year was history. It’s disappointing because we felt really confident, but you can’t do the things we did tonight and win games like this.”
Much of the game was played at the free throw line and the Blades did not thrive there. East went 6-for-33 from the charity stripe. Firebaugh went 18-for-35.
Junior power forward Jackie Mejorado was a bright spot for an East offense that struggled with misses and turnovers at times. She had 26 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — and all six of the Blades’ made free throws. She made several layups through rough contact and fouls.
“But we missed free throws behind those,” Sharp added. “That’s what hurt us. That’s what killed us.”
One of Mejorado’s layups cut the Firebaugh lead to five with four minutes left in the game. Senior guard Maryjane Jones pump faked at the 3-point line as a defender jumped by her and swished a 3-pointer to make it 48-46 with three minutes to go.
East again cut its deficit to two with less than a minute left after Mejorado made a free throw. The Blades stole the ball on the ensuing Firebaugh possession but then gave it up with the three second call.
After the game, Sharp’s mind was on Jones, a senior, who had a “brilliant career.” But also on the future, given that East had seven sophomores and three freshmen on the squad this year.
“We’re gonna be good in the future so we’ll build from this,” Sharp said. “It hurts. It hurts bad, but we’ll build from this.”