BASKETBALL: Mt. Whitney makes a first round exit after facing the West High Vikings

Bakersfield West High School Vikings junior Za’kavious Reese’s 26 points helps eliminate the Mt. Whitney Pioneers in the first round of Division III playoffs

BAKERSFIELD – After finishing third in the EYL, Mt. Whitney entered the Division III playoffs as the 13th seed, but didn’t make it past their first round matchup with Bakersfield West despite freshman Israel Briggs’ best efforts.

The Bakersfield West Vikings were tough competitors for the Mt. Whitney Pioneers in the opening round of playoffs as the Vikings were seeded fourth while the Pioneers were seeded 13th. Though their offense was slow to start in the first quarter, junior Za’kavious Reese kicked the Vikings into gear in the second by running up the score in the second quarter. On defense, they continued to hold the Pioneers back from scoring. In the fourth quarter, they put up 28 points to defeat the Pioneers with a score of 72-45. It was a disappointing elimination for the Pioneers, who won the valley championship last year.

“I thought our defensive intensity was really good,” West head coach Elbert Watkins said. “I kind of felt like Mt. Whitney was young so we wanted to put the pressure on.”

The Vikings ran up the score in the second quarter, scoring 13 while holding the Pioneers to only six points. Impressively, Reese scored all 13 points for the Vikings. He made five out of ten 3-point shots throughout the game. It was a gap the Pioneers couldn’t close with the defensive pressure the Vikings put on them. In the third quarter they were able to get more balls in the basket, but the defense couldn’t contain the West offense. Reese racked up eight more points in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, the Vikings offense really came together, putting up 28 points total, which was the most they scored in any quarter. With a comfortable lead, Reese didn’t play as intensely on offense. Perhaps resting in anticipation of moving on to the quarterfinals. Instead, senior Gustavo Chavez stepped up and scored 11 of his 15 total points in the fourth quarter.

The leading scorer for the Pioneers was freshman Israel Briggs, who had 14 points in the game against West. Briggs is only 14-years-old, but he’s already 6-feet-4-inches tall and plays like he’s been on varsity for four years. He finds open space on the court and gets shots off consistently on offense. On defense, he goes up for blocks without committing fouls. He didn’t have a single personal foul in the game against West. From here, he can only get better, which is promising for the Mt. Whitney program.

“I just told Israel, ‘You’re not a freshman. You play like a senior,’” Mt. Whitney head coach Jeff Lynch said. “A 14-year-old kid that has a high motor and wants to just put everybody on his back. He has a great attitude, great work ethic, and is very coachable. Can’t beat that.”

The Pioneers have five freshmen on their roster and all five had playing time against West. With four seniors graduating, those freshmen are the future of the program. There are also several juniors who will be returning next year and bringing their experience back to the team. Junior Jayden Dillihunt was only two baskets behind Briggs, putting up ten points for the Pioneers.

Mt. Whitney had a strong season finishing third in the EYL, and their record included some impressive games. They pulled off a 48-33 win in their first game against Porterville, who finished as the league champions. The Panthers did manage to beat Mt. Whitney the second time they met, but the Pioneers took them to double overtime.

Early in the season the Pioneers took a tough blow when one of their top scorers was injured in a pre-season scrimmage. The first three games after his injury were losses of 20 points or more to tough schools outside the league. But the Pioneers churned on, putting in the work to develop their young players and become a competitive team in the EYL.

“As the season went on they just continued to work, work, work,” Lynch said. “We were trying to take Saturdays off and they said, ‘no way, coach, we’re not taking Saturday off.’”

The Pioneers finished the season with an 11-14 overall record. For a team that had such a rough start to the season, they finished with an impressive league run and a trip to the playoffs. Though it’s disappointing for the graduating seniors to not make it further, they made an impact this season in helping their younger teammates gain experience.

As for other EYL schools, Redwood was eliminated by South High School, Golden West was knocked out by McFarland, Kerman beat Monache and Ridgeview took down El Diamante in the first round. Porterville defeated San Luis Obispo to move onto the quarterfinals.

Start typing and press Enter to search