Mission Oak High had faced Fresno twice before, enduring a close loss the first time and a rout the second.
It would be different the third time. Freshmen guards Kambrayia Elzy and Rhegan Fernandes would see to it.
Armed with a bit more experience and fueled by that earlier embarrassing defeat, Mission Oak gained its revenge by defeating Fresno 53-50 in the Central Section Division III championship Saturday at Selland Arena.
Elzy registered a team-high 16 points and Fernandes scored nine of her 11 points in the final quarter to help Mission Oak capture its first section title in any sport — on the school’s seventh championship try. The Hawks began playing at the varsity level in the 2009-10 academic year.
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“We really just wanted to win,” Elzy said. “The first try it was really close. But the second one, we weren’t ready for them. We were ready. We wanted to win tonight.
“It’s crazy that we’re freshmen and came in wanting to come to Selland and now we’re here. All the years that Mission Oak has been here, we finally got it.”
It was a tight contest throughout with Mission Oak (27-5) and Fresno (24-5) tied at the end of each of the first three quarters.
Fresno four-year starting point guard Desiree Harding led all scorers with 27 points and added 12 rebounds and four steals.
But the Hawks started to pull away early in the fourth, using a 13-4 run to take a 47-38 lead with 3:10 remaining.
Harding, who received a scholarship to play at Fresno Pacific next season, tried to rally the Warriors. She buried a 3-pointer with 1:30 to go that cut the deficit to 49-43.
The Hawks made four key free throws in the final minute to hold on to the victory.
“We’ve given up before on teams, and we’ve seen how that feels,” Fernandes said. “And I don’t think we wanted to go back to that. We kept playing hard, kept fighting; defense got stronger.
“It’s really sweet. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling and I’m glad I get to have that as a freshman.”
Fresno beat Mission Oak 48-40 on Dec. 4 in the Warriors’ third game of the season, then thumped the Hawks 52-26 on Jan. 10.
Mission Oak’s size, this time around, disrupted elements of Fresno’s offense. The Hawks had five blocks.
And though Harding had a big game, the Warriors had no other player score in double figures.
“It’s just so hard to beat somebody three times,” Warriors coach Dan Avila said. “We didn’t do some things that we needed to do, transition the way we needed to and keep them off the boards.
“Their kids made some plays and hit some shots. I don’t think either team did anything different. I think they were young and they’ve gotten a lot better since.”
Mission Oak players stormed the court at the buzzer; Fresno players retreated to their bench, some in tears.
Even as she accepted her team award after the game, Harding couldn’t muster much of a smile. She finished second on the Fresno High career scoring list with 1,615 points.
“I’m a senior and I’ve been dreaming of going to Selland Arena since freshman year,” Harding said. “It really sucks to get this close and lose.
“We just couldn’t beat them again.”