Mt. Whitney overcomes pressure of being the top seed and the Titans of Bakersfield in 54-51 win in the Division II championship game
VISALIA – It’s no surprise top seeded Mt. Whitney ended their season with a win. The Pioneers had only lost two games all year and had dominated most of its matchups in the first three rounds of the Division II playoffs. But championships don’t come easy, and Mt. Whitney barely edged out a 54-51 win against Bakersfield’s Frontier Titans to take home the Valley Title.
“This game took every last thing we had,” Redwood senior guard Carter Glick said. “I’m feeling fantastic.”
Frontier scored first on a pair of free throws by Tyler Silva. The Pioneers didn’t give the Titans the chance to celebrate as Mt. Whitney’s Carter Glick made his way through the opposing team’s defense for a quick two-pointer. The Titans couldn’t match the Pioneers’ speed of play in the first half as senior Keith Bailey Jr. ran circles around the Frontier’s defense.
A combination of Zach Scatteriggia’s footwork, Dominic Pineda’s rebounding, and the team’s determined defense led the Pioneers to a 37-21 halftime lead. Frontier came out firing in the third quarter. The Titans’ Tyler Silva and Elijah Saavedra both sank three-pointers to help the Titans shrink the lead.
Mt. Whitney held the lead into the fourth quarter as the court became a battlefield. Foul after foul was called on both teams with spectators and coaches alike outraged at every call. With just a minute left in the game, Frontier forward Ndifor Ginyu suffered a minor injury but gritted out a free throw to cut the lead to 2 points. As the clock began winding down, the Pioneers were holding on by a single point. With less than five seconds on the clock, it was the Pioneers Zach Scatteriggia who sent in two flawless freethrows to close out the game the top seeded Pioneers championship run.
After the Valley Title victory, the Pioneers were at a loss for words.
“I don’t know how to feel right now,” Dominic Pineda said. “This means the most. We worked really hard for this.”
Mt. Whitney head coach Jeff Lynch only had one thing to tell his newly crowned championship team: “I love you.”
Mt. Whitney now enters the CIF State Boys Basketball Championship tournament as the No. 4 seed and played host to No. 13 Rancho Cucamonga on March 1. The game happened after press time.
Mt. Whitney over Mission Prep
Prior to winning it all, Mt. Whitney had to get past the high-powered offense of Mission Prep. The No. 13 seed Royals surprised many by taking out No. 4 Liberty 59-44 and No. 12 Hanford 69-58. The San Luis Obispo natives gave the Visalia locals a run for their money holding down the middle portion of the game however the Pioneers overcame their opponents with a final score of 55-47.
“They followed the game plan,” Pioneers’ head coach Jeff Lynch said. “The goal was just to keep battling, and battling, and battling.”
The Pioneers’ Keith Bailey Jr. put the first points on the board with a flawless free throw just a minute into the first quarter. Mission Prep’s Jamar Howard was quick to counter, stealing the ball and finishing with a layup just seconds later. Both teams went back and forth the entirety of the first quarter with Mission Prep emerging with just a 16-14 lead.
“[We] could have all played better but we got the win so that’s all that matters,” Mt. Whitney’s Bailey Jr. said.
These two teams were relentless and evenly matched. For every defensive rebound Mt. Whitney’s Dominic Pineda stole and sent to Juvon Manzanales to take all the way to the net, Mission Prep’s Grant Callahan and Jamar Howard were ready with their attack from the outside. Both teams speed and skill were tested and displayed putting fans of both teams at the edges of their seats.
In the second quarter, the Mt. Whitney’s gym floor looked more like a wrestling match than a basketball game. Multiple members of both teams ended up on the floor fighting for possession of the ball. The Pioneers’ Zach Scattareggia dived onto the floor pulling the ball out just in time to send it towards Bailey Jr. who was fouled on the play. Bailey made consecutive free throws cutting Mission Prep’s lead to just a few points at the half.
“We didn’t have our rhythm going in,” Scattareggia said.
Scattareggia and Juvon Manzanales led a third quarter resurgence for the Pioneers accompanying each other with a handful of assists and field goals. The battle wasn’t over for either team as the Pioneers fought to keep a single point advantage. The Pioneers played inspired pressure defense leading to easy quick baskets at the other end and giving Mt. Whitney the win.