It’s been almost two months since Bakersfield Christian and Garces met on the hardwood, but that night was hard to forget.
The Eagles rallied from a large deficit and held on for a 52-47 victory in Ben Yurosek’s first game with the team after helping lead the BCHS football team to a state title.
Wednesday night had a strangely familiar feeling to it when the two teams met again, only this time the Rams held on despite another furious comeback attempt by Bakersfield Christian.
Senior forward Jack Hatten scored a game-high 17 points, including two free throws with 38.4 seconds left to help Garces post a 59-53 victory in the semifinals of the South Yosemite Conference Championships at North High.
The Rams will play the winner of Wednesday’s late semifinal game between top-seeded Bakersfield and No. 5 North. The title game is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
“It has huge playoff implications for us in terms of seeding,” said Garces coach Brian Dignan, referring to the Central Section playoffs, which start next week. Seedings will be announced Saturday. “We just beat Centennial (in the quarterfinals), which has a great ranking as far as maxpreps(.com), and BCHS is ranked No. 1 in Division 3, so that really catapults us, in my opinion, into a good slot, one of the top spots. So hopefully that helps us.”
The Eagles (19-6) played without Yurosek, who has an injury to his left knee. He was scheduled to have an MRI Wednesday night.
Garces (19-9), the tournament’s No. 3 seed, opened the game on fire. Hatten had two first-quarter 3-pointers and then added another as the Rams built a 30-14 lead with 3 minutes left in the first half.
“It was good (to build a lead), but I just felt like it was a slow quick start,” Dignan said. “I always tell them we need to play with our purpose regardless of who the other team is and try to do the things we teach; playing inside-out basketball, play team basketball, and not try to create for ourselves, but create for our teammates. So we did that and we guarded the ball really well early, we stayed attached to their 3-point shooters early.”
BCHS rallied late in the half to cut the lead to 11, and then rode the success of sophomore Zach Hiebert’s sizzling long-range shooting to make things really interesting.
Hiebert made four of his five 3-pointers in the third quarter, connecting on a 3 on three straight possessions for the Eagles to pull his team within 36-35 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
“In the second half we kind of got away from that for a stretch, and they made us pay right away, so to their credit, they took advantage of those mistakes,” Dignan said. “We know they were obviously without one of their best players where they lose something on the inside, but one of their strengths is also their perimeter game and how well they shoot it. We withstood that stretch and I was really proud of our guys for that.”
JJ Uphold had 13 points, and Ipreye Egbe and Dom D’Amato added eight points apiece for Garces. Seth Marantos had seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to help keep the Eagles close. Lendl Henderson Jr. finished with 10 points.
In the girls semifinals, No. 2 Tehachapi also showed poise in holding off a scrappy North High squad that clawed its way back into the game after trailing 13 points in the first half.
Senior Teagan Thurman scored a game-high 25 points before fouling out and the Warriors advanced to the SYC girls final with a 58-51 win over the No. 11 Stars.
Tehachapi will play top-seeded Bakersfield in the title game on Thursday at 6 p.m. at North. The Drillers defeated No. 4 Liberty 53-39 in the other semifinal.
Thurman had 10 points in the third quarter, and Tehachapi (18-1) needed all of them as North cut the Warriors’ lead in half with a 10-2 run that started at the end of the half and continued into the start of the third quarter.
The Stars (14-10) trailed just 54-49 when Ayleen Rodriguez made 1-of-2 free throws with 1:16 to play.
Tehachapi’s Aleiyah Bryant countered with six of her 10 points in the final quarter to help keep the Warriors in front, even as they struggled at times with Thurman on the bench with foul trouble.
Junior Francesca Palacios led the Stars with 16 points, while Anela Irven added 13.
The Bakersfield High girls took control of the other semifinal in the third quarter, building a 48-22 lead before cruising to a 53-39 victory over the Patriots (13-12).
Alexis Killebrew led a balanced scoring attack for the Drillers (25-2) with a team-high 13 points. Jaiden Key had nine points and Taylor Linzie added eight for BHS. Hannah Anderson scored 20 points for Liberty.