As I plan my trip to Sacramento for this weekend’s CIF State basketball championships, there’s at least one thing I don’t want to forget to pack:
If the last few weeks are any indication, I’m going to need them, even in what figures to be a sparsely-filled Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, which has a seating capacity of 17,608.
Now that may sound crazy, and suggesting I need earplugs may be more for dramatic effect, but there’s no denying the decibel levels reached at local gymnasiums during the Central Section and SoCal regional playoff games have been the highest I can remember in recent memory.
It’s just another example of how this community comes alive to support its local sports teams.
That’s true whether it’s the Bakersfield Condors, who won 17 straight games en route to its first American Hockey League title last season, or more recently with Bakersfield Christian’s CIF State Division III football championship just a few months ago.
Kern County sports fans love a winner.
Now it’s the BCHS boys and East High girls basketball teams chance to feel that collective warmth and passion, with local fans rallying to celebrate their accomplishments as the Eagles and Blades look to capture state titles this weekend.
Sitting in the East High stands Tuesday night, you could hear the excitement as the crowd erupted with every basket, defensive stop or blocked shot. Heck, there was very little they didn’t cheer about.
And it started early. Senior point guard Kanyah Patterson made sure of that with 14 first-quarter points. She finished with 25 on an impressive combination of corner 3-pointers, and-one fadeways and driving finger rolls.
That reminds me, I’ll also want to remember to set my alarm.
East is scheduled to play Ross-Branson for the CIF State D-V championship at 10 a.m. Friday. So reaching appropriate noise levels may also require a stop at the neighborhood Starbucks for a quick energy boost.
In either case, the excitement is well-deserved. The Blades (23-9) are just the fourth area girls basketball team to reach the state finals. The previous three: Wasco (1989 in D-IV), Rosamond (1990 in D-V) and McFarland (2019 in D-III) all fell short in their attempts to win a state title.
But this year’s East squad may be different than those teams from the past. First off, they have a coach in Bobby Sharp who has been there before, albeit it’s been more than 30 years. Sharp, now in his fourth year as the Blades’ coach, was an assistant when Foothill won the area’s first state title in basketball, helping the boys squad to the D-II crown in 1988.
The team, described as gritty and tough by Sharp after Tuesday’s 56-42 regional final victory over San Diego-Madison, has plenty of depth. In addition to Patterson, East has several players that seem to fit together nicely, and Sharp knows how to put the pieces together.
Six-foot senior Alaisha Landeros, the Southeast Yosemite League’s player of the year, controls the inside, seemingly pulling down every rebound and redirecting shots by opponents who dare to challenge her inside the paint. Then there’s senior guard Serina Covarrubias, or Serina Cee as she’s listed on the team’s roster, who adds another degree of toughness, ball handling and outside shooting.
The Blades have also received solid contributions from a pair of freshmen — Samantha Garcia, the SEYL rookie of the year who had 12 points Tuesday and 14 in the regional semifinal victory on Saturday, and ultra-tenacious defender Csarah Blunt.
The excitement for East’s run to the state final is rivaled only by the Bakersfield Christian faithful. Sitting at the top right corner of the Eagles’ gymnasium for their regional D-IV semifinal on Saturday, the noise was deafening at times as BCHS cruised to a 56-47 victory over Harbor City-Narbonne. They followed that with a 56-42 road win over No. 2 Pacific Palisades-Palisades Charter on Tuesday.
Now Bakersfield Christian will play Stockton-Brookside Christian for the D-IV state title at noon Saturday. The Eagles are trying to become the fourth Kern County team to win a state title. The previous three, Foothill (1988 in D-II and 2019 in D-V) and East (1994 in D-II) made the most of their opportunity and took home the championship.
If Bakersfield Christian is going to join that elite club, it will have to start at the defensive end of the floor. The Eagles like to mix things up, not only with multiple defenses, but also with a physical brand of play that provides plenty of pressure and makes it difficult for other teams to feel comfortable on offense.
It’s obviously working. Opponents have scored less than 50 points in 19 of the team’s last 30 games, including four of the five games during Bakersfield Christian’s playoff run.
The team is also 23-1 with 6-foot-5 senior center Ben Yurosek in the lineup, and that one blemish came in a 70-69 loss to Clovis West, the top-ranked team in Central Section Division I. Yurosek joined the team in mid-December after helping lead the school’s football team to the CIF State D-III championship.
The Eagles like to run their half-court offense through Yurosek, whose footwork and passing ability out of the post are matched only by his toughness inside.
Juniors, point guard Seth Marantos, wing Lendl Henderson Jr. and off-guard Levi Letu, have each picked up their game during Bakersfield Christian’s playoff run. Henderson had a team-high 19 points in the Eagles’ semifinal victory over Narbonne last week. Sophomore Zach Hiebert has been a dead-eye shooter all season and also provides plenty of defensive intensity.
So win or lose, there figures to be plenty to cheer about this weekend. If you make the trip, stop by and say hello.
You might have to tap me on the shoulder first.
Remember, I’ll probably be wearing earplugs.