It took 91 years for Central High to win its first Central Section top-division boys basketball title last season.
Now the Grizzlies have another, and it was delivered with true grit Saturday night at Selland Arena.
In a game where a lot went bad, the top seed placed four players in double-figure scoring, made 10 steals and closed with a 12-2 run to repel Bakersfield, 69-58, before a crowd of about 4,000.
Central drew a 16 seed Sunday in the CIF Southern Regional and will play Wednesday at 7 p.m. at No. 1 Damien-La Verne.
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The Grizzlies (20-6), who defeated Clovis North 77-64 in last year’s final, beat Bakersfield despite:
▪ One-for-10 3-point shooting from Cam’Ron Wilson three nights after he made 6 3s, including four straight in the fourth quarter, and scored 29 points in an 85-66 semifinal win over Liberty-Bakersfield.
▪ Three-for-15 3-point shooting as a team compared to the Drillers’ 6 of 12.
▪ And foul trouble from Kobe Foster and Eddie McFall, each of whom had four long before it ended.
This year’s championship is more special than last year’s, honestly, because everybody had counted us out.
Central coach Greg Streets
But there was no denying the difference-making positives, either, for a program now 2 for 2 in D-I championships under coach Greg Streets.
For all his frustrations, Wilson’s stat line was remarkably impressive: 18 points, 16 rebounds and three steals.
Further, a year after he torched Clovis North for 25 points as a sophomore, he was given the Fighting Spirit Award as Central’s game MVP.
“When I couldn’t get my shot going, it got into my head,” said Wilson, whose body language on the court screamed frustration. “But I’m cool because we got the W – and that’s all that matters.”
Despite Wilson’s numbers, Streets said: “That’s an off-day for him, honestly. When he’s below 20 (points), he’s a bit disappointed and you could see that. But I always tell him, even (when) he’s having a bad game to keep shooting and continue to be aggressive, and he did that.”
Left-handed point guard Cash Williams, a junior who scored 17 in last year’s final, continually head-bobbed with his ’60s tumbleweed-like doo while accelerating the pace downcourt and delivered 16 points and six assists against the third-seeded Drillers (21-11), who went 10-0 in the South Yosemite League and had a legitimate case for a top seed.
“They’re were a good team; everybody could handle the ball,” said Williams, cousin to former Bullard star and current UNLV running back Charles Williams. “But we wanted to compete so bad, and the outcome showed it.”
Jahmai Bartley had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 4 for 4 shooting at the free-throw line, and Foster finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and eight blocks in only 21 minutes.
8 Blocks by Central’s Kobe Foster despite playing only 21 minutes because of foul trouble
Then there was McFall, who picked up his fourth personal foul with 44 seconds remaining in the first half but remained eligible long enough to make the play of the game.
With the Grizzlies leading 60-56 with 2:20 to go, he received a pass from Williams on the left wing, swished a 21-footer and was fouled as the Central student body mostly standing behind that north basket erupted. And they did further when McFall made the free throw for the rare four-point play and a 64-56 lead.
That basically shipped the eight-time section champion back to Kern County. The Drillers were seeking their first title since 2003.
Small but gifted throughout its lineup with quick hands and intuition, Bakersfield forced 23 Central turnovers and repeatedly snatched what’s called “50-50” balls in basketball parlance – loose balls.
“We’re not the biggest,” Drillers coach Greg Burt said, “but the kids are relentless.”
Streets found most satisfying the Grizzlies’ success sans 6-8 center Chris Seeley and point guard Jaylon Johnson, who were dominant in last year’s championship against Clovis North. Seeley graduated and Johnson chose not to play basketball as a senior while concentrating on football, where he has signed with Utah as a defensive back.
“We had to find a leader, and Cash stepped up big,” Streets said. “And Kobe Foster has done a dynamite job taking care of the middle. This year’s championship is more special than last year’s, honestly, because everybody had counted us out.”