Basketball: Tulare County teams return to courts

Several boys and girls basketball teams around Tulare County play condensed season

TULARE – When high school sports returned to competitions in late February, it seemed as if indoor sports were a lost cause. As COVID numbers decline and vaccinations rise, high schools in Porterville, Tulare, Farmersville and Lindsay have decided to play a condensed boys and girls basketball season with playoffs beginning on June 1.

Each school has their own set of COVID-19 guidelines they’re following, but all basketball players, coaches, trainers and other team staff members are being tested weekly. The Porterville and Tulare Western boys basketball teams had their first games on April 23 and met last Friday and Saturday for their third and fourth games of the season. According to Tulare Western head coach Keith Rickard, they found out the season was happening at the end of March, and a month later they were stepping on the court for their first game.

“It went from 0 to 100 really quickly,” Rickard said. “Being a public school it’s kind of hard because we didn’t have the opportunities to work with these kids over the last few months of being shut down, and a lot of these kids haven’t had access to go do some things….so we’re definitely rusty.”

The Mustangs are still looking for their first win after four double digit losses, but Porterville has picked up right where they left off last season. They made it to the quarterfinals of the Division II Valley playoffs and are now 4-0 this season. They defeated Tulare Western last Friday night 61-46 and then again the next morning 53-30.

In the first of the two games between the two teams, it was actually the Mustangs who got out ahead early as they were up 13-11 after the first quarter. It was all Porterville from that point on as they outscored Tulare Western 21-2 in the second quarter to go up 32-15 at halftime. The second half was a bit more even with a slight edge to the Mustangs who outscored their opponent 31-29, but the deficit was too much to overcome.

Porterville played Mission Oak in their first two games and defeated them by 30+ points each time. Head coach Lance Wallace is proud of how his team has opened the season after being away from the game for so long, but deems it a bit strange to be playing a rushed basketball season at this point in the year.

“You go the whole year thinking you’re not going to do anything. You pass basketball season, pass the dates that they had originally set for us and you think you’re not going to play any basketball. And all of a sudden, I felt like in a week we put everything together,” Wallace said.

A lot had to happen in the short time period between receiving the green light to play and stepping on the court for their first game. The Panthers hosted tryouts and players needed an updated sports physical, a signed COVID-19 release form, and have an eligible grade point average. All while continually testing negative for COVID-19.

“I don’t know if everybody was able to do that,” Wallace said. “The kids that did it, we allowed them to jam. We’re down numbers wise, we’ve only got two seniors on our team. I feel like the seniors have kind of gotten the bad end of the stick.”

Porterville and Tulare Western are playing on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings over the next three weeks, and will then turn their sites on the Valley playoffs if they were to qualify. According to a press release from the California Interscholastic Federation’s Central Section, accurate seeding will be very difficult due to fewer contests being played, but coach’s rankings will be the starting point for the seeding process.

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