Stand up, Caruthers. The Blue Raiders girls basketball team is a state champion.
Caruthers built a 30-point lead in the first half en route to a 62-38 victory Friday over Ramona-Riverside in the CIF Division V state championship game at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
It’s the first state championship for Caruthers, which shipped a big contingent of fans north for the brunchtime game. More filled the school’s gymnasium to watch the televised action on a mega-screen. And it was clear from social media that many others were tuning in from home, proud of the south Fresno County school that made a “Hoosiers”-like run to be a state champion.
Fifteen-year Caruthers coach Anna Almeida credited the team’s unity with its success.
“They bought in when they all started playing in fifth grade with me,” Almeida said this week. “They know what’s expected. They know my coaching style and they know they’re allowed to veer off the path a little bit, but know it has to be what we like to do. They want to win. They’re winners by nature. They’re fighters and tough.”
It showed early and often on Friday when Caruthers jumped out to a 10-3 lead and never looked back, shooting 68.4 percent from the field, 83 percent from 3-point range. Ramona coach Brandon Fletcher called Caruthers’ 42-11 first half “almost the best perfect basketball I’ve ever seen.”
Freshman guard Anna Marshall said her mom texted her and compared this week to the Super Bowl for Caruthers.
“Being a freshman, it’s crazy,” she said. “When I started basketball in fourth grade, my coach … he always wanted me to win Valley and he would always talk about that and I never thought we would make it to state and here we are, it’s amazing.”
Blue Raiders senior guard Jaque Magaña finished with a team-high 13 points.
“When we have the team chemistry that we have, we have trust in each other to do good,” she said. “When you’re playing, you don’t have to worry about, ‘Oh, is she going to turn it over?’ because you know they’re going to get the basket, take care of the ball and score.”
Fast start under bright lights
The recipe for success for Caruthers in a 32-4 season was to start fast. That wasn’t any different on Friday.
Caruthers led 7-0 on baskets by Marshall, Ramirez and Marshall again.
Ramona got on the board with a banked 3-pointer by Lizbeth Garcia but the Blue Raiders responded with another 3-pointer, by Magana. A 3-pointer by sophomore Malia Ishii later in the first quarter (who says little schools have trouble shooting in NBA arenas?) pushed the lead to 22-8 and the route was on.
Caruthers led 42-1 1 at halftime.
“Our coaches pushed us everyday practicing against the boys and going in the weight room,” Ramirez said. “We’ve prepared for this since the beginning. I just felt like if we can keep that pace up, practicing hard and pushing each other hard, keep that mentality in our head, we’d finish off the game. I’m really proud of our team.”
Little school makes history
Caruthers joins Woodlake (1985), Hanford (2001), Clovis West (2017) and Sierra Pacific (2018) as Central Section girls basketball state champions, according to Central Section historian Bob Barnett.
For the past several years, the California Interscholastic Federation has filled state playoff divisions based on a combination of school size and program success. Thus, Caruthers (enrollment 580) and Ramona (2,100) faced off Friday.
Ramona came in 23-12, including 6-4 in its Southern Section Division 4-AA league.
Caruthers finished on a 21-game winning streak, including a victory over last year’s state D-V champ, Sierra Pacific, in an MLK Showcase game. Sierra Pacific played D-IV this year.
There also was a season-opening win over McFarland, which lost 51-35 to Oakland on Friday afternoon for the state D-III championship.
Barnett said Ramirez has scored nearly 1,800 career points – second most in school history and Magaña has more than 1,400 career points, third best in school history. (Brooke Stanley set the record of 1,961 from 2001-04, according to Barnett.)
Almeida credited her team for believing in her and the coaching staff, especially her longest-tenured Blue Raiders including seniors Ramirez (whose nickname is Fish), Magana and Destiny Giles.
“Fish, Magana and Des talked about one day we can be here and we’re constantly saying it and telling them Valley championships and state championships,” Almeida said. “To watch them come out and perform and do what they’re supposed to do and show us what they do every day in practice is amazing. It’s kind of like watching your kids graduate.”