REEDLEY – Powered by their two veteran 1,000-point scorers, the Immanuel High boys bounced back strong from a tough basketball road loss two nights earlier with an overpowering showing Thursday night against their city rivals.
Guard Mikah Tolpezninkas scored a game-high 30 points, 12 of them coming in a 25-10 third quarter outburst, while forward Tad Tibbett had 21 points (nine in the third) as the Eagles (11-10, 4-1 Tri County Conference Sequoia Division) completed a season sweep of Reedley High (11-14, 1-5) with a 77-43 decision at Immanuel High South Gym.
“At this point in the season, we want to feel good about how we played, regardless of the score,” Immanuel head coach Todd Brown said of his team, which shook off an 84-78 loss at Central Valley Christian on Jan. 23. “We want to really be sharpening each other and sharpen as a team, because if not you won’t be ready when those first round of playoffs come.”
Reedley coach Zeke Lyons said that his team ultimately couldn’t match up with the Eagles’ up-tempo transition game.
“We need the (faster) tempo, but we didn’t have enough physicality to go with it. Our pressure wasn’t good enough,” he said. “(Immanuel has) a lot of athleticism, and we didn’t execute what we needed to do against a good team like that. That’s a really, really good basketball team.”
Before the game, Immanuel honored its two star seniors in a brief ceremony to recognize both reaching the 1,000 career points milestone this season. Tolpezninkas and Tibbett then fueled the charge to start the game with nine and five points respectively, as the Eagles led 18-9 after the opening quarter.
Immanuel increased the lead in the second quarter as each senior had seven points while sophomore Luke Banks and junior Micah Vossler added four points. But Reedley hung within range, with senior Ryan Velasquez scoring six of his team-leading 13 points and Keizo Arakawa (eight points) scoring a basket to beat the buzzer and cut the halftime deficit to 40-29.
Starting the second half, Tolpezninkas went to work. The guard, who had some fluid drained from a troublesome knee and missed some games over the holiday period, scored 10 consecutive points to offset a 3-point basket by Ethan Canales to build the lead to 49-32. Tibbett then chipped in with four baskets as the Eagles blew it wide open to lead 65-39 after three quarters.
“He’s doing great now, and it’s good having him back now,” Brown said of Tolpezninkas, adding that Tibbett has “been a beast” all season. “Tad’s been playing very impressive basketball.” Banks finished with eight points while Vossler scored six points.
Brown and the team look forward to a Thursday, Feb. 8 rematch with CVC (13-11, 4-0), which rode the scoring of AJ Johnston and Justin Stroud to build a 14-point lead after three quarters and then withstood an Immanuel rally the final eight minutes.
“They played a really hard, good game against us,” Brown said. “They had a great student section atmosphere, and it was a fun high school game. We just were on the wrong end of it.”
Lyons was proud of his team’s effort, coming despite not playing with junior Adrian Lopez, who suffered an ankle injury while scoring 12 points in a 57-51 home win over Exeter on Jan. 23. Zeek Curiel (who had nine points against Immanuel) led Reedley with 18 points while Canales had 13 points and Velasquez 12 points.
In addition to not having Lopez, both Curiel and Arakawa tweaked their legs in the Immanuel game. Both appeared to be doing well afterwards.
“We’ve worked really hard in the weight room to try to sustain this and prevent injury. But sometimes you just need some luck, too,” Lyons said. “I think our guys are battle tested, and I think we’re going to be ready when we get to the playoffs.”
Immanuel hosts Exeter on Jan. 30 and then plays at Selma on Thursday, Feb. 1 (6:30 p.m. tip) hoping to avenge a first round home loss. Reedley’s lone game next week is a 7:30 p.m. home contest against Sierra Pacific on Wednesday, Jan. 31.