It was billed as an instant classic and it played out as such.
Despite Liberty opening the game on a 12-0 run and making it seem like Bakersfield was not ready for the championship game at the Lloyd Williams/ Kern Schools Shootout at North on Saturday night, the Drillers miraculous comeback made this one a classic.
BHS went on a 17-1 run late in the fourth quarter. Senior Ronnie Stapp led BHS with 25 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:20 to play and the Drillers beat the Patriots 64-58 for the tournament title.
Still dizzy from the frenzy of the final five minutes of the game, Stapp tried to grasp what just took place.
“I don’t know. We came out here all working hard as a team,” Stapp said. “We just made it happen as a team. That’s for sure.”
The run began with Stapp laying in the ball in to cut Liberty’s once 11-point third quarter lead to seven.
Then Tahj Wright and R.J. Banks, who scored all of his nine points in the fourth quarter, came to the help.
In a 10-second stretch where Banks hits a 3, the Drillers grabbed a steal on the rebound and Stapp nailed another one from long range as the very pro-Drillers crowd erupted as BHS took a 60-53 lead with just over two minutes to play.
“We never get down on ourselves,” Stapp said. “We just try to push every play. That’s what we did tonight. We pushed and pushed and came back to win this game.”
It was a total reversal of the first 15 minutes of the game.
Liberty sprinted to a 12-0 lead as five players scored for the Patriots in the first five minutes.
“We just looked like we were paralyzed out there,” BHS coach Greg Burt said. “It was like a fog on the court that only our kids could see and no one else could see.”
Isaiah Hill, who lit up the box scores in the first three games of the tournament, was held to just five first-half points, but fellow junior guard Kadar Waller took over, scoring nine of his 16 points in the first half.
“I am really thankful for teams like Liberty in this town that push us and and I'm sure we pushed them,” Burt said. “But we have to have that. We have to play these types of games. It’s good for both teams.”
Hill finished with 16 points for the Patriots, including a 3-pointer with less than a minute to play to cut the Drillers lead to 60-58 before BHS was able to hit clutch free throws and grabbed timely rebounds to seal the win.
“We won this championship. This feels good,” Stapp said. “It felt really good.”
The championship, despite being played in early December, still has implications that could last until March.
BHS, which went 10-0 in Southwest Yosemite League play before advancing to the Central Section Division I finals last season, got the first win over their biggest rival in Kern County.
“I think Liberty is a really good team and they are going to get better,” Burt said. “That puts pressure on us because we have to get better. If we can do some things in Valley to make these games look legitimate. I hope we do and I hope they do.”
Liberty coach Jeff Hicks agrees.
“This only makes us better,” Hicks said. “They finished the game and we folded, but it’s a good learning tool.”
Tahj Wright scored 19 for BHS and Javier Gallardo added 10 points and 12 rebounds for Liberty.