Spartans fall in Central Valley championship

Strathmore’s Isaiah Colunga dribbles the ball against Caruthers this past Friday. The Spartans lost to Caruthers, 37-28, in the Division VI Central Section Championship game.(Kason Clark)

Strathmore boys basketball falls to Caruthers in the Division VI Central Section Championship game at Selland Arena; Spartans’ season comes to an end as they finish the year 19-12

FRESNO – At Selland Arena this past Friday afternoon, No. 5 seed Strathmore boys basketball battled No. 2 seed Caruthers for the Division VI Central Section Championship game. The Spartans played tough and kept pace throughout the game, but the Blue Raiders eventually weathered them down.

After the Spartans took a 24-23 lead to start the fourth quarter, Caruthers dominated the rest of the way to defeat Strathmore, 37-28, to claim the Central Valley title. Nicholas Martinez and his Strathmore teammates played hard throughout the game, but the ball did not go their way down the stretch.

“The team’s effort was really good but it was just a matter of 50/50 balls at the end,” Martinez said.

The loss ended the Spartans’ season as they finished the year 19-12. While it was a disappointing way to end the year, the Spartans did improve on their record of 10-17 from last year. Along with overcoming an 0-5 start to this season, Strathmore head coach Israel Valdez was proud of his group of players.

“This is just a bunch of kids who respond well to adversity,” Valdez said. “To come back from such a tough season last year speaks volumes to who they are as a group.”

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Strathmore’s Aeneas Ambriz after their loss to Caruthers in the Division VI Central Section Championship game. With their loss, the Spartans ended their season with an overall record of 19-12. (Kason Clark)

Reaching the Central Valley championship game this year was an achievement as this was the first time the Spartans have played in the title game since 1992. During their postseason run, the Spartans defeated Orosi at home and then beat both Summit Charter Collegiate Academy and Firebaugh on the road.

Against the Caruthers Blue Raiders, the Spartans looked to cap off that run with their first Central Valley championship since 1937. After falling behind, 4-0, to start the game against Caruthers, the Spartans made two quick buckets to tie the game. After Caruthers retook the lead, Diego Lopez knocked down a 3-pointer to give Strathmore the lead. But Caruthers responded with a basket to make it an 8-8 tie to end the first.

Through the second half, both offenses failed to create separation on the scoreboard. With just four minutes until halftime, the game was tied at 13-13. A free throw from Dion Ambriz and then a bucket from Canyon Johnson gave Strathmore the lead, but Josiah Cardoza nailed a three to make it, 16-16, heading into halftime.

After Strathmore opened the third quarter with a three from Martinez, Caruthers went on a 7-0 run to take a 23-19 lead. Aeneas Ambriz put an end to the run with a bucket to cut the deficit to 23-21 heading into the final frame. Martinez then opened the fourth with a three to give the Spartans a 24-23 lead.

But that would be the last Strathmore bucket of the game as the Blue Raiders closed the contest on a 13-4 run to win the game. All four points for Strathmore came on free throws as they finished the game shooting 19.6% from the field and 13.8% from beyond the arc.

“Caruther’s 1-2-2 defensive zone was tough. They’re a gritty and tough group and we knew that coming in,” Valdez said about their offensive struggles down the stretch. “I also think we didn’t move the ball as much as we should have. We got a little stagnant there.”

Martinez and Johnson finished the game leading Strathmore with nine points each. While it was a tough way to end the season, the Spartans will return key players such as Johnson, Martinez and Dion Ambriz. As the Spartans look to return to this stage next season, they will look to build off this year’s run.

“We just have to do the same thing we did this year and hopefully we’ll be back next year,” Martinez said.

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