FRESNO — Just like two years ago, Sierra Pacific attempted to make a comeback in the final minutes of the CIF Central Section Division IV championship game, but just like then, they came up short on Saturday.
Top-seeded Sierra Pacific fell 60-58 to No. 3 seed Caruthers at Selland Arena and finished as runner-up for the second time in three seasons.
“All of us gave our all,” Sierra Pacific’s Celeste Lewis said. “Some of us just struggled, it’s fine. If we were to control the game more we would’ve had a better chance.”
With 3.5 seconds to go and down by two points, the Golden Bears inbounded the ball from near half court. Annabelle Saavedra’s pass to Alana Roberts was tipped by the Blue Raiders’ Krisalynn Turman and picked up by Anna Marshall who dribbled out the final seconds.
“We were trying to get the ball as fast as possible down the court so that we could draw a foul or score,” Lewis said. “Things didn’t work out as they should’ve so I guess things happen for a reason.”
Lewis earned the Fighting Spirit Award for the Golden Bears after recording 19 points, six assists and five steals — all game highs. She also earned the award in 2018 when Sierra Pacific lost 58-51 to San Joaquin Memorial.
Sierra Pacific (25-7, 12-0 ESL) failed to crack the 60-point mark for the eighth time this season. They’re 1-7 when scoring fewer than sixty points.
The loss also snapped the team’s 20-game winning streak. Caruthers (28-4, WSL) has now won 21 in a row and back-to-back Central Section titles after winning Division V last season.
Despite the loss, Sierra Pacific’s season isn’t over. The team will still take part in the state playoffs beginning next Tuesday. The Golden Bears captured the CIF State Division V title in 2018 after losing in the section finals.
“Now that we all have experience on this and we all have the mentality for it, I feel like we’ll be mentally prepared for [the state playoffs] and I feel like we can bounce back from this to state,” Lewis said.
Prior to the final possession, the Golden Bears trailed 54-48 entering the fourth quarter. With 1:19 to go, Kylie Brasil hit two free throws and Lewis hit a layup to make it 60-58.
Sierra Pacific’s defense then forced back-to-back shot clock violations to get one final chance. The Golden Bears outscored the Blue Raiders 10-6 in the fourth. It was the only quarter they won.
Caruthers’ Jacklyn Kulow won the Fighting Spirit Award for her team after scoring 12 points with two steals and two assists.
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“We worked so hard to get this far every day at practice, every morning practice and I’m just glad we finally came here and won,” Kulow said.
Caruthers coach Anna Almedia said the strategy was to have Sierra Pacific dribble for seconds and then foul. Sierra Pacific had possession on the baseline with 6.2 seconds left. Caruthers executed and fouled with 3.5 seconds left.
“That’s why they dove for all those balls and ran through people was because they knew if they got the foul that was fine,” Almedia said.
A total of three players finished in double figures for Sierra Pacific. Roberts recorded a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Makayla Carre scored 10 points. Saavedra finished with seven points.
One of the Golden Bears’ biggest struggles throughout the game was on the boards. Sierra Pacific allowed 22 offensive rebounds and was outrebounded 42-34. They gave up 22 second-chance points and the Blue Raiders' bench outscored the Golden Bears' 28-2.
“We did not box out,” Lewis said. “If we were to box out as a team and all of us found a body and boxed out we could’ve had more rebounds. It was just hard for us to box out and we could’ve had a chance.”
The Golden Bears led 8-1 in the opening minutes after Saavedra hit a 3-pointer. But the Blue Raiders closed the quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 12-10 lead.
Lewis’ layup with 6:39 to go in the second quarter gave Sierra Pacific a 17-16 lead. It was their last of the game as Caruthers went on an 18-5 run to take a 34-24 lead, which was the largest of the game.
“Once we started knocking down shots, my confidence just got more higher with the team and so did the team,” Kulow said.
Sierra Pacific responded with a 14-5 run to close the half with Taylor West’s layup getting it started. The Golden Bears still trailed 39-36.
“Our chemistry we have with each other is like we’re really family,” Lewis said. “We always hype each other up, help each other understand what’s wrong and understand what it is on the court that we need to do better.”
Sierra Pacific was outscored 15-12 in the third quarter and trailed by as many as 11 points. Another run, powered by baskets from Roberts, Carre and Lewis, cut the lead to six at the end of the third.
Turman led the Blue Raiders with 14 points and eight rebounds. Paige Sterling and Mikayla Duran each finished with 10 points. Both teams had 16 turnovers.
Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or email@example.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.
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