In the mind of Caruthers coach Anna Almeida, no other outcome was possible.
The Blue Raiders girls basketball team was going to win, had to win; the players had worked too hard for too long to allow anything else to happen.
Almeida had been coaching many of the Caruthers seniors since they were in sixth grade, convincing them and their parents — as well as many others — to give her coaching style a shot.
And just as Almeida long envisioned, Caruthers delivered on Friday by earning the first Central Section title in program history after defeating Bakersfield Christian 60-34 in the Division V final Friday at Selland Arena.
“We knew we were going to leave here with a victory,” Almeida said. “Nothing against Bakersfield, but we’ve wanted this for six years. This senior class has been preparing since they were in the sixth grade to get here.
“We knew once we got here, we weren’t going home empty-handed.”
Before the Blue Raiders even took the court, they already had a seemingly huge advantage: Roughly 300 Caruthers students who had bussed to the downtown venue along with several parents and other supporters in the stands. Almost all wore blue “Blue Crew” T-shirts that were handed out by the school.
In addition to the girls basketball team playing in the final, the Blue Raiders boys team also was played for a section championship Friday.
There wasn’t a single person in Bakersfield Christian’s designated student section.
And like the crowd disparity,(22-6) overwhelmed Bakersfield Christian (15-13) on the court.
Working a steady inside-outside attack and mixing in three types of full-court pressure, Caruthers outscored Bakersfield Christian 21-8 in the second quarter to break open the game.
Blue Raiders senior forward Lilly Hernandez was named MVP after registering 14 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks. Teammates Emily Mullins and Briana Davila added 15 and 14 points.
“It was crazy,” said Hernandez, who transferred in before the season from Liberty-Madera Ranchos. “They basically shut down our school just to bring almost 300 students to come watch our game. Since the boys made it, it was every better, more sweeter.
“I feel very blessed we could come this far and win. It’s amazing. We definitely feel honored and our school has definitely supported us.”
Back in Caruthers, those who weren’t able to attend the game in person were able to watch it at the high school and middle schools gyms along with the elementary school cafeteria via an Internet stream purchased by the school for the two championship games.
Almedia could relate to the excitement and anticipation. The Caruthers coach had been building the program through a summer AAU team for years, trying to recruit many players who initially were more interested in playing softball and soccer.
“Our first year, we had five players,” Almedia said. “I just said, ‘Stay the course. You don’t have to like basketball. I know for some of you it’s not your favorite sport. I just need you to love me. And then after you fall in love with me, you’re going to love the sport.’
“I think you saw how much they love to play basketball now.”