CENTRAL SECTION BASKETBALL: Young Immanuel girls capture D-IV section crown

Freshman guard Goertzen scores 20 points on six 3-pointers in win over Mendota, Eagles draw No. 4 seed and home game in Southern California Regionals

Immanuel High’s players gather for a group shot with their Central Section DIvision IV girls basketball championship plaque after defeating Mendota High 41-29 in the title game at Fresno’s Selland Arena on Feb. 23. The Eagles (24-9) took the lead for good in the third period en route to capturing the program’s first section title since 2018. (Jon Earnest)
Immanuel High’s players gather for a group shot with their Central Section DIvision IV girls basketball championship plaque after defeating Mendota High 41-29 in the title game at Fresno’s Selland Arena on Feb. 23. The Eagles (24-9) took the lead for good in the third period en route to capturing the program’s first section title since 2018. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published February 26, 2024  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO – A young Immanuel High team broke through in a big way over the weekend, reaching the Central Section girls basketball summit for the first time in six years.

Seizing the lead for good late in the third quarter, the No. 2 seed Eagles (24-9) took command with an 11-point run into the final period to turn away the underdog No. 13 seed Aztecs (25-8) by a 41-29 score in the Division IV final the afternoon of Feb. 23 at Selland Arena. It marked Immanuel’s first girls hoop crown since 2018, when the Eagles topped the Division III field.

Immanuel drew the No. 4 seed in the upcoming CIF Division V Southern California regional playoffs, which begin at 7 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 27 against No. 13 seed Rosamond High. The Roadrunners (24-7) beat Hanford West 60-45 in the Central Section D-V final on Feb. 24 in Fresno. 

Eagles head coach Loren LeBeau praised the maturity and disciplined play of his squad, which starts two freshmen and two sophomores.

“I was just so proud of our laser-like focus today,” he said. “I don’t know how many turnovers we had (15), but normally it’s in the high 20s. You never know with young players what this moment and atmosphere could bring, but their focus was unlike what I’ve seen really all year.”

Leading that focus was frosh guard Jenna Goertzen, who sank six of 14 shots from 3-point range on her way to a game-high 20 points. She had eight of her points in the decisive third quarter run and also finished the night with two rebounds and an assist.

“Jenna Goertzen is going to be a very good high school player,” LeBeau said. “I’ve been coaching a long time and (she is) one of the top five hardest workers I’ve ever coached. This is no accident, she is (at the gym) every morning at 6 a.m. and there is not one morning she is not there shooting the basketball.”

Goertzen said she had all the confidence that her team would prevail.

“After the half, I pretty much knew we were going to win. We’re a second half team,” she said. “We come out stronger and faster, and we shut them down in the second half. The first couple of shots of the third quarter didn’t go in, but you just keep shooting and they went in.”

A 9-point run gave Mendota a four-point lead in the third quarter, but Goertzen nailed a pair of threes and also added two free throws to put Immanuel ahead 28-24 entering the final eight minutes. Sophomore center Nana Moreno then snagged an offensive rebound and scored to complete a traditional 3-point play and make it 31-24.

“They would not give up, they just kept pushing and hustling,” Moreno said of the Aztecs. “It was good to remember to relax and you’ll be fine. Just play it out.”

Goertzen’s 3-pointer from the right wing side of the court to build the lead to 10, and after Bethany Oliva’s 3-pointer cut it back to seven points freshman guard Ainsley Jackson and Goertzen drained consecutive threes to establish a 13-point lead with just more than three minutes remaining. That basically salted away the victory.

Moreno finished with 12 points and four rebounds, but more importantly drew seven fouls from the Aztecs inside the paint.

“We’ve come a long way with practices, tears, blood and sweat,” she said. “We’ve put in hours, and most of all trust in the Lord. You put your faith in him and he’ll carry you to great things. And we won!”

Immanuel is bracketed for two potential home games, with regional quarterfinals set for Thursday, Feb. 29 and semifinals set for Saturday, March 2. Regional finals are scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, with SoCal and NorCal champions meeting for the state final on Friday, March 8 in Sacramento.

Jon Earnest
Reporter