Monache claims Central Valley crown

(Kason Clark)

Marauders girls basketball holds off Tehachapi in a 41-37 victory in the D-II Central Section Championship game; Alisha Verdejo leads the way with pair of late 3-pointers to get Monache the win

FRESNO – Monache girls basketball has only lost two games this season, one of those coming to Tehachapi in early January. So the Marauders had the perfect chance for revenge as they faced the Warriors in the Division II Central Section Championship game at Selland Arena this past Friday night.

It looked like the Marauders would cruise to a title with the lead in the fourth, but the Warriors came back to tie the contest. Yet, Monache did not waver as Alisha Verdejo came through with a pair of clutch 3-pointers to help her team pull away for the 41-37 victory on Feb. 23. As the Marauders claimed the championship, they proved they belong among the best basketball programs in the Central Valley.

“This was our dream,” Verdejo said about winning the title. “We wanted to show people what we’re made of. We’re from a small town but we can play, we can hoop and we can hang with the big teams like Clovis, Tehachapi and all the others. We can hang with teams like that, so we were hungry and we all wanted this win.”

“I love it,” Monache head coach Jonathon Bartlett said about the Central Valley championship. “These kids worked hard all year long to be here. Last year, we fell in the second round and it was disappointing so this year, we worked hard and we played some tough games which is what prepared us for tonight.”

Since their 62-50 loss to Tehachapi on the road in early January, the Marauders won 16 straight wins en route to the title and a 31-2 record. It’s a stark improvement from Bartlett’s first year leading the program when Monache went 8-18. The Marauders improved the following year, but fell short in the postseason. Now that they are finally champions, Bartlett is proud of his players for sticking through.

“This group is special,” Bartlett said. “It was rough to get there so I’m glad we were able to do it with the kids that we have.”

One player that has been with this program over the past three years was Verdejo, who came through for the Marauders when they needed her most. Against Tehachapi, she led the team with 19 points as she shot 7-for-11 from the field. She also went 4-for-5 from deep, including a pair of threes in the final two minutes of action.

“That’s my leader,” Bartlett said about Verdejo. “I have a lot of trust in her to put the ball in her hands late so I’m happy for her and I’m glad that she got this one for us in her senior year.”

The Marauders had to work for their Central Valley championship. The Warriors jumped on Monache early taking an 11-4 lead. But the Marauders got going with an 8-0 run to end the first quarter. Milly Rojas led the way with four points during this run while Verdejo knocked down a 3-pointer to give Monache a 12-11 lead to end the quarter.

Through most of the second quarter, the Warriors and Marauders exchanged scores and the lead. Late in the half, Kennedy Perkins made a layup to give Tehachapi a 19-18 lead. The Marauders took control with a 6-0 run to take a 24-19 lead. Camille Foster scored to end the half, but the Marauders had a 24-21 lead heading into the break.

The Marauders had control through most of the second half as they extended their lead to 35-26 with under six minutes left in the fourth. But the Warriors could not be contained for long as they found their groove with a 9-0 run to tie the game. Jamie Neaderbaomer came through for the Warriors with a pair of threes to tie it up with two minutes left in the contest.

After the Marauders let the lead slip away, Verdejo came through with a three to give her team the lead again. Moments later, Riley Walden scored to make it a 38-37 game late in the fourth. Over the next minute, the teams exchanged empty possessions until the Marauders got the ball with under 15 seconds left.

As the clock ran down to under five seconds, Verdejo put the dagger into Tehachapi’s heart with a clutch three to put the game out of reach with a 41-37 lead. As she knocked down the shot that clinched her team the championship, she had one goal in mind.

“We just had to win this game. Play some basketball and play confidently,” Verdejo said. “I had to feel confident that I was going to make it.”

While Verdejo knocked down the clutch shots, many Marauders contributed to the winning effort. Milly Rojas and Shelley Andrade both scored eight points while Andrade came down with eight rebounds for Monache. As a team, Monache shot 34.8% from the field and 27.8% from deep.

The Marauders also made plays on defense, racking up 17 steals and forcing 25 Tehachapi turnovers. The Warriors finished the game shooting 30.2% from the field and 33.3% from deep. After giving up 62 points to Tehachapi earlier in the season, the Marauders were much better prepared this time out.

“When we first played them, we didn’t expect what we were going to play,” Verdejo said. “This time, we had a scouting report. And it was the Central Valley game so we came even more prepared and we just worked harder. This was a Central Valley game and we all wanted a ring so we just came out hard and we played with our hearts.”

After falling in last season’s postseason, the Marauders have been hungry as they worked every day through the offseason and now the season towards this Central Valley title. As the Marauders now head into the next phase of the postseason, they hope that hunger will fuel them for a run towards the Division I CIF State Championship.

“We’re still hungry,” Verdejo said. “We came out here and we showed people what we’re capable of, so we’re just hungry. We said at the beginning of the year that we’re going to win Central Valley and then we’re going to go to state. We’re not just thinking of the East Yosemite League, no – we want big, and we want people to know our name.”

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