BASKETBALL: Hawks escape Marauders’ trap defense, go to semis

The Division II quarterfinals pits the East Yosemite League champions against the West Yosemite league champions with the Monache Marauders of the EYL falling to the Mission Oak Hawks of the WYL

PORTERVILLE – Faced with a size disadvantage, the second-seeded Monache Marauders tried using a trap defense to contain the seventh-seeded Mission Oak Hawks, but the Hawks slipped through and won 48-44.

Monache freshman Kyah Bartlett makes a break for the net after stealing the ball from a Mission Oak player. Bartlett had four points against Mission Oak.
Monache freshman Kyah Bartlett makes a break for the net after stealing the ball from a Mission Oak player. Bartlett had four points against Mission Oak. Photo by Claire Livingston

The Mission Oak Hawks, the WYL champions, took on the Monache Marauders, the EYL champions, in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs on Thursday, Feb. 16. The Marauders hoped to ensnare the Hawks in a trap defense, but the Hawks were slipperier than expected. After falling into their opponents’ trap in the first quarter, the Hawks found a passing strategy to get around the Marauders defense and run up the score enough to win 48-44.

“We felt that our size advantage would help us get into the basket inside and it did,” Mission Oak head coach Dave Caetano said. “We have some very good inside players, so that was key.”

In the first quarter, the trap defense strategy worked and the Marauders were able to generate turnovers that resulted in breakaways for layups, but the Hawks started to plan their escape from the trap in the second quarter. They were able to utilize their size advantage in getting players to the inside quickly on offense through the second and third quarters. With a little patience, the Hawks spread out down the court and found ways to pass through, over and around the Monache defense, pulling ahead by halftime and staying ahead in the third.

“They weren’t supposed to be [passing like that] but they got under pressure and they’re kids,” Caetano said.

Regardless of whether the strategy was perfect or exactly what their coach told them to do, the Hawks followed their instincts and it paid off later in the game. When they began to falter on offense at the end of the fourth quarter, they had enough of a lead that the Marauders couldn’t catch up in the remaining time. Monache’s strength is outside shooting, so the Hawks made sure to cover them from outside the 3-point line throughout the game. Forced inside by the Hawks defense, the Marauders missed layup after layup in the fourth quarter and their season ended with a four point loss.

The EYL champions were the number two seed in the Division II playoffs bracket, so the loss to Mission Oak was unexpected and was only the Marauders’ fourth loss this season. They previously lost to Liberty High School, Clovis East High School and most recently, their cross-town rivals, Porterville High School. For a team that expected to go all the way to the finals, this was a devastating blow for the young team.

“I’m happy for my kids,” Monache head coach Jonathon Bartlett said. “I hate for it to go out like this but I thought they worked their butts off tonight.”

The Marauders have one senior on their roster, Junalyne Lacambacal, who will graduate in the spring, but every other member of the team will return next season. Their top scorers, junior Alisha Verdejo and freshman Milly Rojas, have another season together with the Marauders. In the game against Mission Oak, Verdejo and Rojas were the top scorers of the game with 18 and 19 points respectively. The Marauders will hope to bring back their team chemistry for another run for a valley championship next season.

The Hawks will move on to the semifinals on Feb. 21. They will travel to Bakersfield to face the sixth-seeded Liberty Patriots. The last time the Hawks faced the Patriots, they lost 57-38. Both playoff games so far have been narrow wins for the Hawks, but the game against Liberty will be a true test of their talents.

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