Sierra Pacific High turned up the heat in the fourth quarter Saturday morning to run away with its first Central Section girls basketball title.
The Golden Bears beat Strathmore 60-46 in the Division IV final at Selland Arena.
Up by two heading into the fourth, Sierra Pacific (27-4) outscored Strathmore 14-2 in the final period. Junior Haley Bettencourt and freshman Celeste Lewis each hit two 3s in the fourth. Lewis finished with 16 points, including 3 of 8 from beyond the arc. Hailey Leslie was named Most Valuable Player for the Golden Bears with nine points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
“When we got here today, we said our goal wasn’t just to play here, our goal was to win,” Sierra Pacific coach Amy Bush said. “We couldn’t just be happy stepping on to this court. We had to be focused and ready to play, and they were. It was a total team win and I’m extremely proud of them.”
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Sierra Pacific has won 12 straight since a 48-45 loss to Strathmore in mid-January. The streak includes two decisive wins over Strathmore, its East Sequoia League rival.
We just go and take our shots. We all have faith in each other and that's what allows us to take those shots.
Sierra Pacific’s Haley Bettencourt, who finished with nine points going 3-for-3 from 3-point range
The Spartans (28-5) quickly fell behind after two early fouls by starting guard Mariah Hernandez saw her get benched until the 5-minute mark in the second period.
Hernandez watched as her team’s four-point lead in the first quarter transformed into a 16-point deficit with 6:17 left until halftime. In the second half, the Spartans opened with an 8-0 run and twice came within a basket for the tie.
However, Sierra Pacific prevailed behind its tight zone defense that allowed for its offense to make a run.
“I thought we were going to take charge in that fourth,” Strathmore coach Richard Miranda said. “I said all we needed was one defensive stop and one basket and I knew the momentum was going to switch. But I think we kinda shot ourselves out of it. We only scored two points in the fourth quarter.”
Hernandez had 13 points, including 9 of 13 free throws, and hauled in six rebounds.
Strathmore will join Sierra Pacific and one additional section D-IV team in the CIF State Regionals next week.
None of the section’s boys and girls representatives – 28 in all – will know if they’ll play in the state’s North or South regions until Sunday’s seedings.