Bakersfield High boys basketball coach Greg Burt didn’t have to wait until the regular season finale to see the maturation process of his senior standout.
Burt has seen the growth of Ronnie Stapp all season, after Stapp missed most of his sophomore year with a knee injury and played most of last year while working his way back into basketball shape.
On Wednesday — senior night at the BHS gym — Stapp had a game-high 24 points to lead the Drillers to a 72-52 win over Liberty. The victory clinched the Southwest Yosemite League title for BHS, and quite possibly the No. 2 seed in the Central Section Division I playoffs. Tournament seedings will be announced Friday.
“The growth in this young man has been incredible,” Burt said. “He’s really turned it around. He’s been really coachable and hasn’t gotten emotional on the court. I’m just really proud of him.”
A near-capacity crowd witnessed the standout night for Stapp and the Drillers.
Los Angeles Clippers guard and BHS alum Tyrone Wallace, Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball coach Rod Barnes, and the head coaches from Clovis West and Fresno-Bullard were in attendance.
BHS, Liberty, Clovis West and Bullard are the likely top-four seeds in the D-I bracket. Burt thinks his team deserves a 2-seed behind Clovis West, which beat Bakersfield in December.
“The guys in our town have got to vote for us, that’s No. 1,” Burt said of local coaches casting their playoff votes in order for BHS to get the two seed. “We don’t get too many votes from guys in our town because we are outnumbered.”
Only five of the section's 14 teams in D-I are from Bakersfield.
“So it starts there and hopefully it plays out in our favor,” Burt said.
Stapp was the catalyst for the Drillers hot start, scoring the first four of the game for BHS (19-7, 9-1) and had 18 at the half.
“Our whole thing was to keep our composer and hit them on the defensive end,” Stapp said. “I thought we did that very well and I think we are going to do very well in the playoffs. I can’t wait for that.”
BHS took an early 8-2 lead but Isaiah Hill, the junior guard for Liberty (22-4, 8-2), hit a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first half that tied the score at 15-15.
But BHS opened the second quarter on a 13-4 run, built a nine-point halftime lead and never looked back.
“We didn’t show up tonight,” Liberty coach Jeff Hicks said. “Our guards struggled to beat the pressure. Their pressure was excellent. They got the best of us. They play extremely hard and with a lot of effort. Ronnie had a tremendous game. Coach Burt has them playing very well.”
Time and time again, BHS was able to create fastbreak opportunities off pressure defense by players like Stapp, R.J. Banks, Gabriel Esquivel and Jimmy Henry.
Banks scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and Henry and Esquivel each added nine points for BHS.
“That was a really good team we beat tonight,” Burt said. “In the moment of playing for our league championship, our kids didn’t play with any fear and went after it. I am really proud of this group.”
Javier Gallardo scored nine of his 13 points in the opening quarter for Liberty as Hill finished with 13 and Kadar Waller added 10 points for the Patriots.
The two-day waiting game begins now to see where each team will land in the playoffs.
For Stapp, his thoughts on the next two weeks of his life were concise.
“Everybody better be ready for us.”