HANFORD — Sierra Pacific is headed back to Selland Arena for the second time in as many years. The Golden Bears led wire-to-wire and dispatched Bakersfield Christian 71-43 in the CIF Central Section Division IV semifinals.
Sierra Pacific guard Celeste Lewis has caught fire in these playoffs so far and led her team in scoring for the third game in a row. She scored a game-high 20 points and was 3-for-4 from the 3-point line, while grabbing four boards, dishing out four assists and coming up with four steals.
“I felt good with my teammates sharing the ball and how we swing it and find an open shot for every one of us to score equally,” Lewis said. “I like to bring my game into others.”
Haley Bettencourt was second on the team with 16 points, but it was more about the first eight points everyone was waiting for. Entering Wednesday’s game, Bettencourt stood at 992 career points.
After not scoring in the first quarter, Bettencourt found her stroke in the second and nailed a 3-pointer along with three free throws to bring her total to 998. With just over four minutes left in the half, a steal on an inbounds allowed Bettencourt to score an uncontested layup for 1,000 career points.
She became the second Sierra Pacific players to score 1,000 points after teammate Kalea Bush did it earlier last month against Strathmore.
“I’m thankful for my teammates and my coaches to get me there. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Bettencourt said. “Tonight, honestly I was just more focused on getting the dub, but it was great to have that thousand points added on top of it.”
Bettencourt’s layup was part of a 12-2 run the No. 1 seed Golden Bears used to start the second and turned the game into a blowout.
No. 4 seed Bakersfield Christian (21-9, 9-3 SSL) trailed by nine after the first when the Golden Bears started the game on a 17-4 run. The Eagles closed the first on a 10-8 run to trail 25-14, but found themselves in a 41-16 hole at halftime after being outscored 16-2 in the second.
“Early on I said we should focus on defense to keep them down and not let them get the energy,” Bettencourt said.
The full-court press did what it’s done to every other opponent Sierra Pacific has faced this year. It left the Eagles unable to get the ball across half court without turning it over. Easy scoring opportunities were converted by the Golden Bears.
The Eagles picked it up offensively in the third and actually outscored the Golden Bears 15-14 in the quarter, but had no answer defensively. It was Alana Roberts and Janae Tolbert getting inside or Lewis knocking down a 3-pointer right before the end of the quarter.
Sierra Pacific led 55-31 entering the fourth quarter and used another strong quarter to close out the game. Kalea Bush and Tolbert were the other Golden Bears to finish in double figures with 12 and 10 points.
The Golden Bears held Bakersfield Christian to just under 21 percent shooting on the night. Sierra Pacific was a +7 on rebounds, but perhaps a more telling stat were steals. The hectic defense came up with 21 to the Eagles’ eight and helped force them into 30 turnovers. The Golden Bears had 15 turnovers.
“That was pure intensity,” Sierra Pacific coach Amy Bush said. “They have a goal and that’s them working together and working hard.”
After the game, Bettencourt was honored with a plaque and her 1,000-point basketball to crown her milestone.
“I’m just so proud of her,” Bush said. “She’s a hard worker. She’s a great player all around. It’s great to see a great kid make her milestone.”
Sierra Pacific (27-4, 10-0 ESL) will face the No. 2 seed San Joaquin Memorial at Selland Arena on Saturday at 10 a.m. for the Division IV championship.
The Panthers sport a 21-5 overall record and were a perfect 10-0 in the County Metro Athletic Conference. They’ve won 15 games in a row, while the Golden Bears have won 17.
“I want another ring. I want this win,” Lewis said. “Our goal, as a team, is to make [the state playoffs] … and we want to win it all.”