KINGSBURG - The Vikings opened the 2019-20 season with a 51-28 victory at home over the Mt. Whitney Pioneers on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Kingsburg (1-0) never trailed in the non-league game against Mt. Whitney (0-1) and its 23-point margin of victory was the second largest lead of the night. After a five-point third quarter, Kingsburg closed out the game by outscoring the Pioneers 21-6 in the fourth quarter.

“They really stepped up in the fourth quarter,” Vikings head coach Kristi Bravo said. “I think being more conditioned and more in shape finally started to pay off. I was hoping it’ll pay off sooner, but fourth quarter is better than nothing.”

A pair of double-digit scorers led the way for the Vikings, who were two of three returners from last year’s team. Ally Cotton led all scorers with 19 points while Nicole Merlo added 14.

“I think it was all of our nerves, first quarter, first game, most of us it's our first varsity game ever,” Merlo said. “I think once we got used to it and got used to the flow, the fourth quarter we just came out and did our best that we normally do in practice.”

The rest of the team scored a combined 18 points compared to the duo’s output of 33. A total of seven different players scored for the Vikings. Makayla Ortega (six points), Maci Chavez (six), Faith Hearn (two), Lillian Dias (two), and Sadie Carpenter (two) each contributed on the stat sheet.

“We’re young,” Bravo said. “We’re very different from last year, but they go hard and they’re not scared to go hard.”

The Vikings started the game on a 11-0 run including making three straight three pointers for their first nine points. Kingsburg struggled offensively shortly after by scoring two points for the rest of the first quarter, but the period would end 13-3 in the Vikings’ favor.

The second quarter was even for both sides, as each squad scored 12 points, but Kingsburg still held the lead 25-15 at halftime.

Both teams struggled to begin the third quarter, as the Vikings and Pioneers were scoreless for the first 2:12 of the quarter. The scoring drought ended after Merlo made a free throw that extended Kingsburg’s lead to 11 points.

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Missed shots and turnovers on both sides led to the game’s lowest point total in a quarter at 12 points. Mt. Whitney outscored the Vikings 7-5 in the third quarter, but Kingsburg still led 30-22 at the end of the quarter.

“Going into the locker room at halftime, we knew we expected higher of ourselves,” Cotton said. “Knowing us, knowing how we practice, that wasn’t our best at all.”

With the Pioneers looking to get back in it, the Vikings extended its lead in the fourth quarter after going on a 13-2 run to begin the quarter. Kingsburg had its largest lead of the night at 25 points (51-26) before the Mt. Whitney scored its final two points of the game.

Last season, the Vikings suffered a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the CIF Central Section Division IV playoffs. As the No. 6 seed, Kingsburg was upset 57-56 to No. 11 Madera South.

Despite the disappointing end, the Vikings had a stellar season at 21-7 overall and they won a co-Central Sequoia League championship after a 11-1 record against league opponents. It was Kingsburg’s first CSL title since the 2009-10 season. The Vikings shared the league championship with Selma.

With last year leaving a bad taste in their mouth, Cotton and Merlo said they want to return to the playoffs and compete for a Division IV title.

Their coach has the same expectations.

“I have high expectations,” Bravo said. “My expectations are the same. I want to win league, we would like to get further in the playoffs.”

On Thursday, Kingsburg lost 55-30 to Washington Union at home. The Vikings last played Reedley High (2-0) on the road on Tuesday (after press time).

Kingsburg will compete at the Selma Shootout Tournament hosted by Selma High on Dec. 4-7. The Vikings begin CSL play at home against Central Valley Christian on Dec. 10.

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The reporter can be reached at 559-583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com

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