Spartan offense held at bay and lose to East Bakersfield at Selland Arena 43-49, still qualifies for state playoffs
By Paul Myers
FRESNO – Strathmore’s typically high scoring offense was held to 39 points in their Valley Championship loss to East Bakersfield, last Friday.
The Spartans (28-5) made it all the way to Selland Arena in Fresno for the division five title. It was an impressive second season of 20-plus wins for the young squad, but head coach Richard Miranda said that his team just couldn’t string together enough points when they needed them.
“The biggest struggle was the consistency. It finally caught up with us. Sometimes we were able to play terrible and still win. But when you play a team that’s matching up and takes advantage of that [you have to score]. We dug ourselves a hole…we needed to fight our way back, we just ran out of time,” Miranda said.
The Blades (19-9) were able to put 43 points on the board in large part to their 6 feet-tall forward, Alaisha Landeros posting under the basket. She had 10 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter, but she was a true rebounding force. On the defensive end, she made play after play on the Spartan’s key offensive weapon, Jasmin Soto.
“A lot of it was, she got a lot of second chances. When you have an athlete who plays like that, you have to match that. If you don’t match it, they just got too many second and third chances,” Miranda said.
Soto scored her team’s first two points but continued to struggle in the key. After missing a series of layups, she was defiantly blocked by Landeros. Before the end of the quarter, Soto was getting visibly frustrated. But Strathmore left the first quarter only down 9-7.
The Blades continued to extend their lead in the second quarter when they went up 18-9 with 3:18 left in the half. After a brief timeout Strathmore finally got on an offensive roll. Thanks in part to some East Bakersfield foul trouble, and a nine-point second quarter from Soto, the Spartans were down 20-16 with 1:16 left in the half.
In the final minute Sherrie Chapa was sent to the line for two free throws. She missed them both, but got her own rebound on the second for a put back to bring the half time score 20-18, and some momentum.
By the beginning of the third, the Blades made it clear they were ready to try and put the game away. At the 4:17 mark in the third quarter, the Blades extended their lead 30-20. Meanwhile, Strathmore continued to miss opportunities to score. Their first points of the half didn’t come until Soto hit two free throws. She had all of the team’s seven points in the third quarter, heading into the fourth still down by 10, 35-25.
Strathmore didn’t start making a late game comeback until Landeros fouled out with five minutes left. Without the Blade’s most potent defender, Soto made good on her attempts in the lane. With 1:28 left, East Bakersfield was up 41-33. But Strathmore made a run with a few layups, until they were down by a score, 42-39 with 35 seconds left.
Unfortunately, Strathmore’s last attempt with the ball was smothered by the Blades defense. But when the Spartans got the ball back with 10 seconds left, Soto rushed a three-point shot with space in front of her. When it clanked off the rim with one second left, the Blade’s bench all but rushed the court in celebration.
Miranda was irate, wishing Soto would have driven for a higher percentage layup for two points, and an opportunity to get the ball back with a timeout. Despite the late game miss, Soto scored all but one of her team’s 14 points in the fourth.
“I think we just need to work on more game situations,” Soto said.
But throughout the matchup, said her biggest challenge was keeping her head in the game when the defense was stifling her performance.
“That was a problem I always had. I learned to let it go but when games like this get close it’s hard when your team doesn’t contribute…in order for us to get a lead all of us have to contribute,” Soto said.
Despite the loss, Strathmore qualified for the Division V CIF State Playoffs. Their first round was on the road against Marshall in Pasadena, on Tuesday. The game concluded after press time.