After last year’s loss in the Div. III Valley Championship game, this year’s version of the Madera Coyote girls basketball team has been working on getting back to the game.
With Tuesday’s 49-45 victory over No. 3 seeded Golden Valley-Bakersfield in the Div. III semifinals, the second seeded Coyotes will face fifth seeded Sanger in a County/Metro Athletic Conference battle for the Div. III championship.
“It feels rewarding to be back, but we’re not satisfied in any way, shape or form,” head coach Jason Smith said. “The goal hasn’t been getting back. The goal is to win the whole thing. Anything short is not acceptable. They think that, as well. They’ve been driven. We won league because I said we had to in order to get this game at home. Had we not won league, this wasn’t a locked game at home. We did what we had to do to grind through league to win it. This is what we’ve been playing for all year long, this next game.”
Smith and the Coyotes were determined not to let last year’s 44-24 loss to Mission Oak-Tulare define this season.
“It feels great,” said senior guard Ashley Hansen. “I hope our team gets this redemption, especially against Sanger. I really hope we can finish this with a ring.”
As Smith has pointed out, it’s really tough to beat a team three times this season. The Coyotes swept the CMAC series against Sanger. They beat the Apaches 45-41 in Joe Flores Gym and then picked up a 50-33 victory in Sanger. Alyssa Burton scored 25 points and pulled down 26 rebounds in the game. Sanger was led by Vanessa Hernandez with 17 points while the Apaches shot just 19 percent from the field.
“It feels good because we’re about to go against Sanger and it’s a battle of the CMAC again,” Burton said. “We’re going to take it to them.”
Burton led the Coyotes with 18 points to go with 17 rebounds. Hansen added 14 points and the team’s lone 3-pointer.
“Alyssa rebounded and finished so well in the second half,” Smith said. “I felt we forced the ball into her a bit much. I thought Ashley Hansen, Maria Hernandez and Brianna Rubalcaba set her up. Alyssa kicked the ball out and got the ball back and scored. The four of them working in combination is what really broke their back.”
“This was the most intense of all games,” Hansen said. “This was a one-and-done situation. With valley, you have a chance to go to state playoffs.”
“Smith told me to be under control,” Burton said. “I had height advantage.”
Both teams stayed close in the first quarter. Burton scored Madera’s first seven points for a 7-6 lead.
“The game plan was to go down low because we got the height advantage,” Burton said. “We got a lot of fouls because we watched so much game film and knew they were going to try to get steals because they were so long. They are a great team. We came out with a stronger and better win.”
After a Golden Valley 3-pointer, Briann Houghton hit a short jumper and, after Golden Valley took the lead with a layup, Hansen hit a 12-foot runner to tie the score at 11.
The Bulldogs scored down low at the end of the first quarter for a
13-11 lead. The Bulldogs added to the lead with a short jumper in the second.
Hansen hit Escobar for a layup, but another short jumper from Golden Valley started a 6-0 run for a 21-13 lead.
Hansen cut the lead in half with a 3-pointer. Rubalcaba found Escobar for a layup to cut the lead to 21-18 with three minutes left.
Golden Valley made a free throw and put back an offensive rebound to open the lead to six.
Hansen hit Burton for a layup, but Golden Valley converted on another offensive rebound. Escobar put back a missed shot and then came the game’s turning point.
Golden Valley’s Tori Dunn took control of the ball from the Coyotes, but Alyssa Fernandez battled Dunn for the ball and eventually ripped it free. Fernandez had control of the ball, but was pushed down by Dunn for Dunn’s third personal. While Fernandez was on the ground, Dunn kicked Fernandez and was hit with a technical foul, her fourth personal of the game.
Fernandez made two free throws for the personal foul and made one of the two technical free throws to cut Golden Valley’s lead to 26-25 with 50.4 seconds left in the half.
“The key moment changed the whole momentum of the game,” Smith said. “It took Dunn out of the ball game for a significant amount of the second half. Had she been able to play the second half, she was a difference maker. We didn’t have anybody that could guard her. Our girls held their composure. Alyssa Fernandez, probably the most frail girl on my team, she’s the one that fought for that ball because she refused to give up.”
Despite going 3-of-12 from the field in the third quarter, the Coyotes took a 32-31 lead into the fourth quarter. The Coyotes got two buckets from Burton and a 3-point lay from Hansen to take a one-point lead.
The Coyotes then went on a 6-0 run to open the fourth quarter. Hansen started the run with an assist to Burton for a layup. Rubalcaba hit a 10-foot runner and Houghton put back a missed shot for a 38-31 lead.
Golden Valley cut the lead with a layup and a free throw, but Rubalcaba hit a 12-foot jumper to get the lead to six. After a Golden Valley free throw, Houghton found Burton for a layup to get the lead to seven.
Burton made on of two free throws for a 43-35 lead with four minutes left in the game.
Golden Valley cut the lead with a free throw, but a Hansen runner opened Madera’s lead to nine with three minutes left in the game.
Golden Valley then converted a 3-point play, but Hansen answered with an eight foot runner for a 47-39 lead.
Dunn scored two buckets for the Bulldogs to cut the lead to four with less than a minute left in the game.
Hansen made a pair of free throws with 25.4 seconds left to put the game away with a 49-43 lead. Golden Valley hit a baseline driving layup to cut the lead to four with 11.6 seconds left.
Madera missed two free throws with seven seconds left, but Rubalcaba got a steal. However, she was called for an over-and-back violation with 1.9 seconds left in the game. The Bulldogs’ desperation shot fell short and the Coyotes celebrated a second straight Valley Championship game appearance.
“The game was the score we wanted,” Smith said. “I told the girls that if the score was in the 60s, we were going to lose. If we keep it in the 40s, we give ourselves a chance.”