Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate, roses, flowers and sweet cards. So, it’s only fitting that on a day devoted to sweetness, the Calaveras High School girls’ basketball team got the sweetest gift it could ask for, which was a victory over Bret Harte.
In the season finale, Calaveras had no problem defending its home floor in a 68-26 win over its rivals from Angels Camp at Mike Flock Gym Friday night in San Andreas.
While Calaveras celebrated the win and gets ready for the postseason, the Bullfrogs had little to smile about. Following the 42-point loss, it was hard to find any silver lining, but junior Haylee Maddeaux was able to look past the rough defeat and is already thinking about next season.
“It’s always hard losing to Calaveras because they are our rivals,” Maddeaux said. “But this was a building year for us. I said that at the beginning of the season. Next year we are going to come out even stronger and I know we can beat them if we can just play together.”
Bret Harte has not been able to defeat Calaveras since Jan. 2015 and will miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year. For Bret Harte head coach Mitch Hodson, not being able to beat the rival school was a tough way to end the season.
“You always want to play your best against Calaveras, but they have a good team,” Hodson said. “We played hard and our girls felt good heading out there, but we just didn’t pull it off.”
Bret Harte began the night with a 4-0 lead following back-to-back baskets from junior Jaden Arias and junior Mikenna Grotto, but Calaveras responded by going on a 16-0 run to put some major separation on the scoreboard.
“It’s a rivalry game, so you have to give your rivals the respect that they are going to come out and play hard,” Calaveras head coach Jeremy Malamed said. “We knew that it would mean everything in the world for these girls from Bret Harte to beat us and that would make their season. When you have a situation like that, the longer you let a team hang around, the more it builds belief and that belief can be dangerous. So, you want to come out and take control of the game right from the start and I think we did a good job of that.”
Bret Harte climbed to 11 points in the first quarter with baskets from freshman Aariah Fox and Maddeaux, but at the end of the opening eight minutes, Calaveras had a 21-11 lead. Jumping out early helped calm some of Calaveras senior Muriel Strange’s nerves.
“I definitely get a little nervous, but I think it’s a good nervous,” Strange said about playing Bret Harte. “It hypes me up and makes me want to play with all my heart.”
Calaveras pressured Bret Harte defensively in the second quarter, which resulted in sophomore Madison Clark recording numerous steals that ended in layups. The speedy guard scored eight of her team-high 17 points in the second quarter. After scoring 11 points in the first quarter, Bret Harte could only score nine in the second and trailed Calaveras 40-20 at the midway point.
“We didn’t have the right mentality coming in and we were really run down,” Maddeaux said. “At halftime, we picked each other up and we tried to get back in it, but by that time, it’s too late.”
In the final 16 minutes, Calaveras outscored Bret Harte 28-6. In her final game against the Bullfrogs, Calaveras senior Frankie Pekarek scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half, which included going 6 for 8 from the free throw line. Aside from two 3-point baskets, Calaveras didn’t allow any other points scored in the second half.
“I like the way we played today and finished that second half with a lot of energy and hopefully, that’ll carry over into the playoffs,” Malamed said.
As is often the case in rivalry games, emotions start to boil over. And late in the fourth quarter, it was obvious that tensions were high. While Maddeaux enjoys competing and playing hard, she also knows that getting upset on the court won’t make things better.
“You have to remember, we are all just playing for fun, no matter what team you are on,” Maddeaux said. “Obviously, some of us are going to go beyond this level and play in college, but at the end of the day, we started playing in like fifth grade and you want to end it by having fun.”
Maddeaux finished with a team-high seven points; Fox scored five; Grotto scored four points; Tiana Bennett had three points; Arias and Shayna Wakefield scored two points; and Kalah Casey had one-point in the loss.
Bret Harte is losing the senior trio of Faith Blodgett, Kinlye Apley and Bennett, but still has not only its core players returning, but also a strong group of underclassmen. Hodson is optimistic for what the future will bring.
“It’ll be helpful (having so many returning players), but I want it to be clear to them heading into next season that, this will be the year that I think we can take that step,” Hodson said. “We keep getting a tiny bit better, but we need to take a big step and get better as a basketball organization. We are going to pick a fresh 12 next year and go out and try to win some games.”
As for Calaveras, Madison Clark had 17 points, eight steals, two assists and one rebound; Pekarek had 12 points and two rebounds; freshman Brooke Nordahl scored 10 points and had four steals, two boards and one assist; Bailie Clark had nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals; Strange had six points and three rebounds; Skyler Cooper scored five points and had two rebounds and two assists; Gabriella Malamed had four points; Vanessa Baysinger pulled down five boards and had three points; and Kaylee Dickey had two points, two assists and one rebound.
With the regular season now complete, Calaveras will wait to find out its playoff fate. Regardless of who his team will face in the opening round on Tuesday night, Malamed feels good about the potential postseason run.
“I think this year’s D4 field is just about as open as it’s been since I’ve been coaching,” he said. “The only private school you have out there is Capital Christian, who, from an athleticism point is maybe a step above everybody else, but is still beatable. I think if we went out and played well, we could beat them. I think we can beat any team in that field. It doesn’t mean it would be easy and everyone else probably feels the same way, but it’s nice going into a tournament where everyone has a legit shot and you are one of those teams with that shot.”