There was a playoff atmosphere Saturday morning when the Righetti Warriors hosted the Clovis High School Cougars in the championship game of the annual Harold Olivera Girls Basketball Tournament.
The action was intense from the opening tipoff until the final buzzer.
Both teams played hard-nosed, in-your-face, fast paced offense and tight man-to-man, double teaming, triple teaming, full court press defense.
In the kind of battle the Warriors will likely face next year when most of the local schools move over to the CIF Central Section, the Warriors prevailed 58-50.
“They played some tough defense,” said Righetti coach Desiree Hitch. “We had to be strong to handle their relentless press. The girls did a really good job of handling the pressure.”
“It was an exciting game,” said Clovis head coach Greg Clark. “We knew coming in that Righetti had a good team. We want to play against that type of team. We knew we’d have trouble with their height but the bottom line is we didn’t make plays when we needed to and Righetti did. They are a talented and well coached team.”
The game started on time at 11:30 a.m. but a power failure knocked out the scoreboards. Partial power was restored in time for the game but Righetti had to bring out old, portable mini-scoreboards to keep track of the score.
Righetti led the entire game but could never really pull away from the scrappy Cougars.
The Warriors Kendall Bagby got the ball rolling hitting a layup off an inbounds pass early in the first quarter.
Righetti’s Mercedes Arredondo made it 4-0 with a scoop shot after driving to the hoop.
Clovis point guard Jasmine Hue answered with a 3 from the left of the key and the battle was on.
When Righetti’s Ashley Reynoso grabbed a rebound off Natalie Garcia’s missed shot and put it right back up and in as the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter, the Warriors had a nine point lead.
And when freshman center Malia Cabigon muscled her way in for a layup at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter, Righetti was up by 14.
But the Cougars kept clawing their way back.
Late in the half, Hue hit another 3, followed quickly by a driving layup from Kelsey Delgado and another from Avery Evans and Righetti’s lead was down to four points.
The teams traded buckets to close out the half with Righetti leading 30-26.
Righetti’s Dominique Garcia got the lead up to six when she grabbed a rebound and put it back to start the second half.
But Clovis’ Taylor Correa came right back with a long 3-point bucket and then a steal led to Tatiana Ong’s fast break layup and Righetti’s lead was down to one point, 32-31.
But Righetti didn’t wilt under the pressure.
After the team’s battled back and forth, Righetti’s Zane Sheckherd stole the ball and raced downcourt for an easy layup.
Garcia hit two free throws and the lead was back up to five.
The Warriors got that lead back up to a more comfortable eight points when Reynoso hit two free throws just before the end of the third quarter.
When Arredondo hit a short jumper to open the fourth quarter, Righetti’s lead was up to 10, 45-35.
And back came the Cougars.
Correa hit consecutive 3-pointers and Clovis closed to within four.
That’s when Cabigon made two of the best plays of the game for Righetti.
With 3-minutes left in the game, Cabigon worked her way in front of the basket. She got the ball in a crowd and powered her way to the hoop for a 47-41 lead.
Righetti grabbed the rebound on a Clovis miss and tried to work the ball deep to Cabigon but the ball was batted away.
Cabigon grabbed the ball from the scrum and hit nothing but net to give the Warriors a 49-41 lead with 2:20 left in the game.
From there it became a foul-fest and the Warriors, who struggled to make free throws earlier in the game, hit eight of their final 11 to put the game and the tournament title away.
“That was a fun game to coach,” said Hitch. “It was a really good learning experience for the girls. It had a playoff atmosphere and that good for the girls to experience.”
Reynoso led the Warriors with 12 points, Arredondo had 11 and Cabigon 10. Natalie Garcia added nine, Dominique Garcia had seven, Bagby six and Sheckherd was held to three points.
Correra led the Cougars with 13 points, which included four 3s, Hue added 12 with three 3s, and Liana Matsunaga 11.
This was an excellent, battle tested Clovis team.
Although their record is 11-6, the Cougars made it to the CIF Central Section Division 1 championship game at the end of the 2016-17 season, falling to Clovis West in the title game.
Clovis also qualified for the state tournament where they fell in the first round of that tournament.
“Righetti is the kind of tough team that will help prepare us for our league and the Central Section playoffs,” said Clark. “And we know we’ll be seeing them again next year when they move over to our section.”
“It was nice to come back and watch the girls play,” said tournament namesake Harold Olivera. “Desiree and her assistant coach Natalie Gruspe played for me for four years. We’ve got a great reunion going. It’s so nostalgic to be here.”
Righetti (9-1) is back in action on Wednesday at Arroyo Grande.