Mustangs race past the Spartans

Tulare Western’s Regina Toscano makes a pass against Strathmore this past Wednesday night. The Mustangs defeated the Spartans, 57-29, to open the Division IV Central Section playoffs.(Kason Clark)

Tulare Western girls basketball rolls to a 57-29 win over Strathmore to open the postseason; Mustangs now advance to next face Immanuel in the Division IV Central Section playoffs

TULARE – From the opening tipoff, Tulare Western girls basketball was ready for the first round of the Division IV Central Section playoffs. At home this past Wednesday night, the No. 7 seed Mustangs got rolling from the start and never looked back as they defeated the No. 10 seed Strathmore Spartans, 57-29, to open the postseason.

With the victory on Feb. 14, the Mustangs improved to 15-12 this year and advanced in the playoffs. They also avenged a 52-40 loss to Strathmore from earlier this season. As the Mustangs dominated a familiar foe to open the postseason, Tulare Western head coach Jeff Denney was impressed by his team’s effort.

“We played great. Our energy was up,” Denney said. “We had a bad week of practice but the girls showed up and they had the energy and the effort all night.”

Many Mustangs showed that effort on the offensive end. Olivia Machado finished the night leading her team with 13 points. Adison Lee also played well with 11 points while fellow Mustangs Miranda Nevarez and Regina Toscano both scored 11 points. Despite some struggles to find their offensive rhythm this season, Machado believes they found it against the Spartans.

“We knew we had to connect on some passes and actually run the offense,” Machado said. “I feel like today, we really met the passes, actually moved the ball and we found the openings.”

Tulare Western got its offense going early in the game. After pulling ahead for a 5-4 lead over the Spartans, the Mustangs got hot to go on a 12-0 run to end the opening frame and take a 17-4 lead. Lee led the way with six points during this stretch of the game.

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Strathmore’s Alyssa Gonzalez dribbles the ball against Tulare Western. With their loss to the Mustangs, the Spartans finished their season with a record of 21-8. (Kason Clark)

The Spartans responded with two quick baskets to open the second quarter, but the Mustang stayed in rhythm as they ended the half on a 15-4 run to take a 32-12 lead into the break. Nevarez took control this time with five points during this run. While the Mustangs continued to chug along offensively, they also played sound defense to limit the Spartans’ scoring output.

“Defensively, we stayed up on the press,” Machado said. “We applied pressure to the ball and we just got in the passing lanes, which really allowed us to advance the ball on our end.”

In the third quarter, the Mustangs continued to play steady basketball to stretch their lead out to 44-21 heading to the fourth. In the final frame, they continued to press as they pulled away for the big win to open the season.

On the losing side, Strathmore’s season came to an end with an overall record of 21-8. In her final game of the season, Alexis Ibarra led the Spartans with 10 points.

The Tulare Western Mustangs will now go on the road to face No. 2 seed Immanuel in the quarterfinals of the Division IV Central Section playoffs. As they look to get the upset in order to continue their season, the Mustangs will need to be focused and steady on the road.

“We need to be smart with the ball and set up our offense,” Denney said. “If we do that, then we’ll be fine.”

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