2011-12 Warrior Basketball

Tehachapi guard Cory Lange goes between Shafter's Tyler Gonzalez, left, and Kyle Millwee
to score a basket. The Warriors won the game 64-46 in Shafter to remain undefeated in SSL play.
Photo by Felix Adamo, The Bakersfield Californian.

Tehachapi Boys, Shafter Girls
Close In On SSL Titles

Posted by Zach Ewing, The Bakersfield Californian, on February 10, 2012

SHAFTER -- Two of Kern County's hidden basketball gems reside in the South Sequoia League, but after a doubleheader crucial to both the boys and girls league-championship races, it's clear that the SSL's best have help.

Boys basketball: Tehachapi 64, Shafter 46

Cory Lange can do it all for Tehachapi, but the Warriors' early-season problem was that they'd wait around for him to do it.

"A lot of times, guys just kind of waited for him to save the day," Tehachapi coach Chris Olofson said. "Finally they're starting to realize it takes more than one."

But Friday, with Lange's shooting touch off, there was plenty of support: Six-foot-four post Justin Hedberg had 17 points and 16 rebounds, Darren Smith had 13 points and Tyler Beardsley added 10 for Tehachapi (16-7, 8-0 SSL), which needs just one win in two games next week to win the league title outright.

"Cory's always struggled shooting in this gym, ever since he was a sophomore," Olofson said. "But we're playing team ball. The other guys are realizing their roles, and they're starting to do a lot of stuff on their own, without me having to call it out. It's encouraging."

Lange, a 6-2 guard who will have his choice of college offers in football and basketball, still did his part, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals. Shafter coach John Wiebe said he affects the game in ways that you won't see in the box score, too.

"His penetration, even when he's not scoring, he's dishing it off," Wiebe said. "We wanted to stop him closer to the half-court line, stop him from getting in the lane, but sometimes he'd just dribble around two guys. He's the best athlete I've seen in the SSL. He's that good, so we were stuck."

The task facing the Generals (15-6, 6-2) was made more difficult by news Wiebe received just an hour before tipoff: Leading scorer Cyrus Parsons, a 6-2 forward, had turned his ankle after a rally during the school day and had to sit.

"He's pretty important," Wiebe said. "A lot of those rebounds I think would have been his. But we still had the personnel to win the game. We just got beat by a good team."

With the way Tehachapi was firing on all cylinders, it might not have mattered. The Warriors enjoyed a 45-26 edge in rebounds and built the lead to as much as 24 midway through the third quarter. Shafter never got closer than 15 after that, and Tehachapi, in its last year before moving to the Southeast Yosemite League, is looking like a champion.

"Earning a piece of (the league title) is great, but our goal from Day 1 has been: 'Let's leave the SSL without losing,'" Olofson said.

Girl's Basketball: Shafter 58 Lady Warriors 48

Hannah Ramirez is awesome, and she proved that Friday night with 25 points as Shafter clinched at least a share of the South Sequoia League title.

But that made her only the second-most spectacular member of the Generals' backcourt. Top honors must go to Yoemma Esparza, the shooting guard who contributed nine points and a couple of steals -- on a torn anterior crucial ligament in her left knee.

Yes, that's the same ACL injury that sidelines professional athletes for the better part of a year. And Esparza is playing. Well.

"Hannah is a special player," Shafter coach Kevin Edgmon said. "We have some kids on our team that make it fun to coach. And Yoemma Esparza, she plays. She doesn't hobble around. It's a remarkable story."

With Ramirez and Esparza hurting Tehachapi on drives to the hoop and the Generals (20-8, 8-0 SSL) harassing Tehachapi point guard Paige Bennett into 3-of-14 shooting, this was a vintage performance when Shafter needed it most.

"It's very tough to beat a good team twice," Edgmon said. "We knew they rely a lot on Paige Bennett, and we figured if we could keep the ball out of her hands, she'd have a tough time scoring. We just pride ourselves on blue-collar, tough-nosed defense and rebounding the ball."

The Generals built as big as a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter before Tehachapi (16-6, 6-2) sliced it to 51-45 with three minutes left. But Shafter scored the next five points and held on tight.

"We just didn't take care of the ball real well there for a while," Edgmon said. "We just needed to re-gain our composure and remember what got us here."

Alyssa Garcia scored 20 points for Tehachapi, and Bennett rallied to score 12, but the Warriors committed 20 turnovers and never led. They briefly tied the game at 21, but Ramirez scored the next six points by herself.

"We didn't execute," Tehachapi coach Renn Amstead said. "We threw away too many passes; we didn't play the defense we've played all year. And our best shooter went 3-for-14. You just can't do things like that."

Carli Preston of Shafter drives the lane as Lady Warriors Paige Bennett (left) and Sarah Breen (right) try to defend the play.
The Lady Generals won the contest 58-48 to take firm comntrol of the SSL with a perfect 8-0 record.
Photo by Felix Adamo, The Bakersfield Californian.