In the years to come, when Bakersfield Christian boys basketball coach Garrett Brown wants to illustrate what he expects on the court from his players, he’ll have a visual aid at his disposal.
Namely, the second quarter highlights from Wednesday’s Central Section Division III semifinal matchup with Sanger.
The Eagles’ performance will provide the perfect blueprint, one that saw them outscore the Apaches 28-9 in the period, turning what had been an early seven-point deficit into a 77-66 victory.
“They calmed down and played the way they’re supposed to play,” said Brown, providing an explanation for his team’s second-quarter turnaround. “We changed our defense and they weren’t ready for us to change our defense. That, and we made shots. We’ve been putting an emphasis on shooting in practice, and this is one of the better shooting teams I’ve seen at the high school level, so when (five different guys) are making shots, it makes us really hard to guard.”
With the victory, top-seeded BCHS (18-11) advances to its fourth straight section title game, where the Eagles will host No. 3 Nipomo on Friday at 6 p.m. with a chance to repeat as D-III champions. Nipomo (14-3) upset No. 2 Fresno-Hoover in Wednesday’s other semifinal matchup, 77-75 in overtime.
“It feels great,” said Brown, who guided his team to the SoCal Regional championship last year, only to have the state title game canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This isn’t a team, it’s a program. I think we’ve proven that to everyone. Four straight section title games, four straight state playoff appearances, and we’re not done. So now we have to go get it done and prepare for next week.”
During their strong second quarter performance — on both ends of the court, the Eagles made five 3-pointers, four by junior Erick Chaney and another by freshman Bentley Waller, while holding Sanger to just one field goal. Chaney capped an 14-point quarter with a 3 at the buzzer — one of six on the night — giving BCHS a 47-30 lead.
But Bakersfield Christian’s win was not without drama. The Eagles extended their lead to 55-32 after five straight points by Zach Hiebert, capped by a 3-pointer just 2:10 into the second half before the Apaches' began to heat up.
Sanger (10-9) began to chip away at the lead, thanks in large part to the all-around game of senior guard Luke Dillon. Dillon, who finished with a game-high 24 points, scored the final 12 points for his team to close out the third quarter, pulling the Apaches to within 62-47 with a pair of free throws with six seconds left.
Sanger continued to rally into the fourth quarter, opening with an 11-1 run and cut BCHS’s lead to 63-58 on an inside basket by Jaydis Beltran.
“They’re very well-coached and they aren’t going to quit,” said Brown of Sanger’s comeback. “They have some good players, they’re talented, and they did the same thing to us last year. Last year we were up by 25 and I think we ended up winning by six or seven. They’re not going to quit, their season’s on the line. We just had to weather the storm.”
The Eagles countered a 7-2 run of their own that included two free throws by senior point guard Seth Marantos and a 3-pointer by Chaney — his sixth of the game. Bakersfield Christian made 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:28 to keep control of the game.
“We just need to stay aggressive the whole game,” Brown said. “I felt like we shot (well) in the first half, and in the second half … we just have to keep our foot on the gas. Just keep making shots. I feel like we got happy with the way we played in the first half. I’ll talk to them about that and that’s the only thing negative I have to say. Other than that, I’m proud of my guys. Survive and advance.”
The Apaches’ opened the game strong, with 6-foot-5 junior Jon Dillon controlling the pain for eight early points. Sanger led 15-8 midway through the first quarter before BCHS began to find its legs. Dillon finished with 23, including an 11 of 12 performance from the free throw line.
Marantos had eight points in the first quarter to keep his team close and Jackson Tucker nailed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to pull his team within 21-19, which provided the momentum that led to its big second quarter.
Chaney led a balanced scoring attack for Bakersfield Christian with a team-high 23 points, while Marantos and Tucker added 17 and 15 points, respectively. Waller finished with nine, including two deep 3-pointers. The Eagles made 11 shots from beyond the arc from five different players.