REEDLEY – It was like night and day for the Immanuel High Eagles during their second Tri-County Conference Kings Canyon Division girls basketball matchup with the Sierra Pacific Golden Bears on Wednesday night.
Less than three weeks after suffering a 30-point drubbing in Hanford, the Eagles scored the game’s first 11 points and burst to a seven-point lead after one quarter. But Sierra Pacific used two major scoring outbursts in the middle two quarters to regain control of the game, going on to a 55-45 victory at Immanuel High South Gym to move two games up in the TCC title chase.
Eagles head coach Loren LeBeau said the rematch was another important learning tool for his young team that features two freshmen and three sophomores with extensive playing time.
“We’re not able to put a four quarter game together quite yet. We’re just not mature enough or experienced enough,” he said. “We have the heart, we have the hustle and we have the desire. But we’ve got other little facets of the game that we’ve got to clean up.
“We know what kind of program Sierra Pacific is. That team beat us by 30 at their place. I think we really came out to fight tonight, and earned a little bit of respect.”
Amy Bush, Sierra Pacific coach who picked up her 200th career coaching victory in a 59-29 rout on Jan. 11, agreed with the sentiment.
“We had a really, really slow start. Their coach is amazing and the girls played well,” she said. “We talked about how every time we came out, they’re going to play hard.”
Immanuel (15-7, 4-2) came out with three-quarters court pressure and an active pressuring zone defense, forcing Sierra Pacific (14-11, 6-0) into eight turnovers in the first eight minutes. In transitions, Jade Laemmlen nailed a pair of 3-point baskets and Sid Azua added a 3-pointer to make it 11-0 five minutes in.
The Golden Bears closed the deficit to 13-6 by the end of the quarter, and after the Eagles built a 16-8 lead they went on an 8-0 run to tie the game. A free throw by Nana Moreno and basket by Jenna Goertzen (team-high 11 points) made it 19-16, before freshman guard Goertzen’s 3-pointer gave the hosts their final lead at 22-19.
Sophomore guard Nyung Ayuen scored a layup to beat the buzzer and give Sierra Pacific a 23-22. The Golden Bears then got a layup and 3-pointer from Ayuen to cap an 11-0 run for a 30-22 advantage. The Eagles continued to scrap, creeping within 32-27 on a 3-pointer from the right wing by Goertzen with two minutes left in the third quarter.
At that point, Sierra Pacific seized command in the final minute after the Eagles couldn’t convert on two of three scoring chances. Senior shooting guard Sina Alexander drained a three from straightaway, and following two quick Immanuel turnovers Alexander hit two more shots beyond the circle to make it 41-27 after three.
Despite all that, the Eagles continued to chip away, A 10-1 run was capped by two Goertzen free throws to make it 42-37, and a basket by Ainsley Jackson made it 44-39 with four minutes left. But a 3-pointer by Ayuen (14 points) to beat the shot clock made it 47-39, starting an 8-0 run that salted the game away.
Jackson and Azua backed Goertzen with eight points apiece, while Laemmlen and Liz Davila each scored six points. Guard Apajok Ayuen also scored 14 points while Alexander finished with 11 points.
Immanuel has road games remaining with Hanford West (Friday, Feb. 2) and Central Valley Christian (Wednesday, Feb. 7) and a home contest with Kerman (Friday, Feb. 9) to close out the regular season.
“We have two league games and a crossover game,” LeBeau said. “We’re hoping to put ourselves in a position to be a one or two seed in Division IV, and get to Selland Arena (for the section finals).”