Girls Basketball: Spartans reign supreme as Valley champs

Strathmore defeats Corcoran 73-60 to win Division V Central Section title

STRATHMORE – The Strathmore Spartans have made it to the Division V Valley Championship game in back-to-back seasons, but they looked like a completely different team in the game last Thursday. While the players on the court were nearly the same, this year’s squad showed the immense growth they’ve had in the last 15 months as they brought home the program’s first section championship in over 20 years.

There were some fans in attendance that hadn’t been to a game all season due to COVID-19 restrictions, but they packed out the stands to create an intense championship game atmosphere. Playing at home instead of at Selland Arena in Fresno, like last year, worked in favor of the Spartans as they shined in front of their fans.

Players dump ice water on head coach Richard Miranda to celebrate the win.Jermaine Johnson II

Defense was strong on both sides throughout the night. Strathmore had the clear advantage as Corcoran struggled to beat the full-court trap defense which led to 20 steals by the Spartans. Their tough defense led to easy points in transition, particularly for their star player Jazmine Soto who finished with 42 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 8 steals.

According to head coach Richard Miranda, Soto is a 5-foot-5 guard who plays like she’s 6 feet due to her athleticism and versatile skill set. That allows her to dominate on both ends of the court and impact the game in ways Miranda has never seen in his two decades of coaching.

“I could coach another 30 years and won’t ever see anyone like her,” Miranda said. “When it’s all over, it’ll be a sad day for me but a new chapter in [Jazmine’s] life as she goes off to Holy Names.”

As the state’s leading scorer, Soto is no stranger to carrying a large offensive load. The same was the case in last year’s championship game against East Bakersfield, but the difference was simple: her teammates stepped up this year.

In last year’s game, the Spartans lost 43-39 and only two other players put points on the board to combine for 10 points. Of the eight girls that played in the game this year, seven put points on the board as Soto’s teammate combined to contribute 31 points. Juniors Joseli Gutierrez and Sherrie Chapa scored eight each.

The game stayed close for a majority of the first half, until a 13-0 run by Strathmore towards the end of the second. That was a critical moment in the game as they led 37-28 at halftime and never relinquished the lead.

The third period was the highest scoring quarter for both teams as the Spartans led 60-48 heading into the fourth. The Panthers had one final push in them as they nearly cut the lead to single digits. Two clutch Soto buckets, a layup in transition followed by a three-pointer, helped her team regain the momentum which they carried through the end.

Following a successful Valley championship run, Miranda’s message to his team is to not be satisfied. They are the only team in Tulare County to advance to the CIF Southern California regional tournament, and are three games away from a possible state championship game. As the No. 2 seed, they hosted Calvary Chapel last night in a game that occurred after press time. If they won, their season will continue at home tomorrow night at 7 p.m.

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