The first three state playoff home games for Foothill have been standing room-only affairs with basketball fans around Bakersfield lining up for more than an hour to get into the quaint gym on campus.
But Tuesday’s CIF State Southern California Division V Regional Championship for the top-seeded Trojans against No. 2 San Diego-Southwest is now being moved to North High’s big gym, a decision that was announced Monday morning.
The CIF handbook for regional championships says “host schools must hold one-half of the total available seats open and unoccupied for visiting team rooters until 15 minutes prior to scheduled tip-off unless the site administrators of the participating schools have agreed otherwise.”
While Foothill's gym can seat up to 2,100 fans, North High has a capacity of 3,100 according to athletic officials at the respective schools. In turn, the location has been moved to accommodate the four buses of students Southwest has scheduled to make the trip to Bakersfield for the game.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
Foothill head coach Wes Davis said playing in a different gym in Bakersfield is like “staying at a friend’s house in town. You’re still not at home.”
“We have a lot of fans that want to be a part of what’s going on, but the other school is bringing four bus loads of students,” Davis said. “In order to still keep the Foothill fan base alive, we have to move it. If it’s half of their fans in the gym, that takes away from what we are doing here.”
Davis was steadfast all of last week about wanting to keep the SoCal regional championships at home knowing the environment was a large part of this postseason run.
Even the simple intricacies — floor size, familiarity with the rims, the locker room and pregame routine — can make a difference.
“We want to be at home. We don’t have a home away from home. We have played there,” Davis said. “We would play outside if we had to. Now it’s about all of Bakersfield coming out. People wanted a bigger gym. Now they have it. I hope all of Bakersfield comes out.”
The winner will advance to the D-V state championships at noon on Friday at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.
What a run its been
Needless to say, the crowds at Foothill during the 2019 postseason have been memorable, particularly in the regional playoffs.
The Trojans' gym has been filled to the brim the past three games, with die-hard fans standing in ticket lines more than an hour before tip off to obtain one of those coveted spots in the bleachers. In turn, they’ve witnessed one of the great local postseason runs in recent memory.
Once play begins, seniors Edward “Squid” Turner and Elijah Seales have brought fans to their feet with thunderous dunks. Sophomore Jaden Phillips and senior Cesar Valdez have hit key 3-pointers while senior Warren Stingley has cleaned up the boards.
When the starters need a breather, guard Chaun Davis and Bryan Diaz have kept pace as the Trojans outscored San Diego-Bassett, Arleta and Oxnard-Santa Clara by an average of 19 points per game.
In the 36-year history of the state playoff system, there's been just two boys basketball teams from Kern County to advance to the state championship, the last coming in 1994 when East won the D-II title.
The first was Foothill winning it all in D-II in 1988.
The last time a Kern County boys basketball team was in the SoCal finals was in 2003 when Garces lost to eventual state champion San Diego-Horizon at Cal State Fullerton. That Rams team, led by Robert Swift and Kyle Shiloh, had to travel down south to play.
“For those that have been fortunate enough to witness these first few state games, it’s been a special environment,” Davis said. “It’s been a blessing.”
If for no other reason, Davis wanted to keep the game at Foothill to recognize the loyal home fans who have stuck by the program even during some recent lean years. The Trojans were 0-24 six years ago and in Davis’ first season in 2014-15, the team won just eight games. Back then, Davis said, the gym felt like a ghost town.
“It’s simple. When we were losing, nobody was there and you could hit a rock and not hit anybody,” the head coach recalled. “As we were building this up, they still weren’t coming. We appreciate the support from Bakersfield, but we are about those that have been here in this gym during this journey.”
Davis hopes that journey continues, however, regardless of venue.
“That’s the great thing about it when a team makes a deep run, Bakersfield comes out. I want everyone,” Davis said. “I want east Bakersfield to see those games. I want alumni to come out.”