By Gregg Dodderidge
OAKHURST — The Badger Varsity Girls Basketball program are adding another North Sequoia League title banner to an already crowded wall in the Badger Gym. This year the banner will read co-NSL champs — as YHS wound up in a three-way tie with Kerman and Washington Union.
The Badgers, led by head coach Gary Blate, have won or shared the North Sequoia League championship 16 of the past 18 seasons.
Blate plays a brutal early season schedule to prepare for a strong second half of the season. It has been a proven formula and this season has been no different.
The Badgers finished the 2019-2020 regular season going 15-4 in their last 19 games, losing only to playoff-bound teams.
The Badgers traveled to face Kerman in an NSL showdown on Feb. 11. It was the final NSL contest for both teams. A win would give the Badgers an outright title. Kerman had other plans. The Lions defeated the Badgers 60-58. The Kerman win avenged an earlier 62-44 loss at YHS.
YHS (21-8, 8-2), Kerman (23-5, 8-2) and Washington Union (19-9, 8-2) will each share the title in what was a wild and highly competitive 2019-2020 NSL season.
Prior to the Kerman game the Badgers defeated Washington Union 53-42 at home on Feb. 4. YHS then went on the road and defeated Chowchilla 68-30 on Feb. 7.
Final NSL Contests
The Badgers faced a Lion program that won 22 regular season games under first-year head coach Anthony Patino. The Lions were 19-7 a year ago.
Kerman, always a tough place to play, had a playoff-charged atmosphere. The Badgers didn’t help their cause by being down by as much as 20 points in the first half. The Badgers dug a hole but nearly crawled out of it. With seconds left to play the Badgers missed a one and one free throw attempt and the Lions held on for the win.
“We were in this until the end,” Blate said. “Their gym was really loud. The crowd made a lot of noise. We played well in the second half and almost pulled it out.”
The Badgers were hurt by the play of 6-foot Lion center Breanna Hurt. Hurt, on her way to play at Fresno Pacific, dominated the paint, limiting Badger star center Courtney Hart to a season-low 5 points.
The Badgers were again led by 5’-10” junior forward Jenna Kurz who scored 24 points, including five 3- pointers. Kurz is now second all-time in the single season points scored total surpassing Badger legend Katie Menton. This is a source of pride for Blate.
“Jenna is now second all time in season points scored,” Blate said. “Jenna is in rare company. Only Sydnee Fipps has scored more in a season. Both Katie and Sydnee earned Division One college scholarships, a feat shared by few Badgers in any sport.”
Forward Keylee Andersen had 12 points, all on three pointers. Andersen earned a double-double by pulling down 10 rebounds. Isabella Brown led YHS with 11 rebounds.
Britney Allen led YHS with 7 assists.
The Badgers gained revenge with a 53-42 home win over Union. The Panthers defeated YHS 44-38 in Easton on January 17. The Panthers managed a combined 15 points in the pivotal second and third quarters. YHS led 43-26 at the end of three. It was too much of a deficit for the Panthers to claw out of.
Hart and Kurz had 23 and 22 points respectively to lead YHS. The duo combined for 45 of the Badgers’ 53 points. Hart absolutely dominated in the paint pulling down a game-high 19 rebounds.
Allen scored 6 points and led YHS with 5 assists.
The Badgers notched another easy 68-30 win at Chowchilla. The Badgers also defeated the Tribe 68-26 in Oakhurst on January 21. Kurz led YHS with 33 points including four 3-pointers. Hart had 20 points and YHS with 18 rebounds. Allen led YHS with 4 assists and 4 steals.
All Badger bench players got lots of minutes.
Final NSL Standings School
Yosemite 8-2 21-8
Kerman 8-2 23-5
Washington Union 8-2 19-9
Sierra 4-6 11-16
Chowchilla 2-8 16-12
Liberty 0-10 4-21
All NSL teams play in the Division IV playoffs except Yosemite.
Union earned a #4 seed and will host #13 Mendota. Kerman is a #5 seed in D-IV and will host #12 Madera South. #14 Chowchilla will travel to face #3 Caruthers.
The Badgers have paid a post season price for their past successes. At less than 700 students the Badgers will play in Division II. YHS has the smallest student population in Division II. Most D-II public schools are around 1,500 to 2,000 students.
Blate knows that a low student population is a challenge, but also takes great pride for his program to be considered one of the best in D-II. “We are once again in the upper echelons of Division II,” Blate said. “This is a great team accomplishment considering we are the smallest public school in D-II and graduated five of our top six players from last season.”
Nevertheless, YHS will host a playoff game on Friday February 21. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Badger’s opponent is yet to be determined. The Badgers drew a #2 seed and have an opening game bye for round one.
“Having a 2-seed gives us home games all the way to the CIF Finals,” Blate said. “This gives our team a great advantage.”
Winning in Oakhurst is never easy for any Valley team. The geography of the Central Section encompasses Eastern California, Bakersfield, the Central Coast and much of the South San Joaquin Valley. In other words, it will likely be a long road trip for YHS’s next opponent. They will face three ranked Central Section players: Kurz is the second leading scorer (23.7 points per game) in the Central Section. Allen is ranked 2nd in assists with 5.4 per game. Hart is the 11th ranked rebounder averaging 11.5 boards per game.
The YHS defense can be stifling inside the added play of Andersen and Brown. Together with Hart, Andersen and Brown typically own the inside and limit opponents to few second chance points. Andersen can also hit from beyond the arc.