The script couldn’t have been written any better.
The Bret Harte High School girls’ basketball team lost to Valley Christian 71-65 in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game. One day after the loss, the CIF State Division V NorCal brackets were released and Bret Harte and Valley Christian were on the same side, with the Bullfrogs getting the No. 3 seed and the Lions getting No. 7.
Bret Harte went on to win its first two state playoff games, as did Valley Christian, which included upsetting No. 2 Santa Cruz. So, with a trip to the CIF Division V NorCal championship game on the line, it’s only fitting that the final two remaining CIF Sac-Joaquin Section division V schools clash one final time. However, this time the game would be played in Angels Camp.
The Bullfrogs had the opportunity to not only avenge their section championship loss, but they could also end Valley Christian’s season and advance to the NorCal championship game for the first time in the history of the girls’ basketball program.
With so many different storylines, Bret Harte focused on its main goal which was to win and advance and that’s exactly what happened. The Bullfrogs got some revenge for the section championship loss by knocking off Valley Christian 62-52 on March 4 at Bob Bach Gym in Angels Camp.
“It was hard for our team to put that aside,” Bret Harte junior Makenna Tutthill said about wanting payback for the section championship loss. “But we worked together and played together, and it wasn’t one person who stood out. We all played together, and I think that really helped us not focus on the revenge part and just focus on the game.”
Bret Harte head coach Jeff Eltringham has been around Bullfrog basketball for the majority of his life. From being a player, a boys’ basketball coach, a fan and now the girls’ basketball coach, Eltringham has seen many big games and great crowds inside of the gym in Angels Camp. But what he saw and that his team got to experience from the fans and community in the semifinal matchup ranks near the top of his list.
“To be from this school and to graduate from this school and to see everyone come out and support these girls was just amazing,” Eltringham said. “The gym was absolutely electric with how full it was. I’ve seen games like that, but it’s been a while. It shows how much everyone cares about these girls and it’s just really special. People around this community wanted to come out and make sure their last home game was something special and it was something that they’ll never forget.”
This was not the first time that Bret Harte senior Aariah Fox has walked onto her home floor for a semifinal game in the state playoffs. In November, Fox had her volleyball career come to an end in a tough 3-0 home loss, just one match away from playing for the NorCal championship. Fox didn’t want to experience the pain of having another chapter of her high school athletic career come to a close on her home court.
“During volleyball it really did suck losing at home and knowing that was my last volleyball game,” Fox said. “Obviously it’s going to be that way for basketball, too, but I love these girls and I’m just trying to enjoy it for as long as I can.”
When Bret Harte and Valley Christian met one week prior in the section championship game, the Lions had a 26-13 lead by the end of the first quarter and Bret Harte spent the rest of the contest trying to battle back on the scoreboard. In the rematch, the Bullfrogs did not allow Valley Christian to put together any sort of large run.
Bret Harte started the game with back-to-back baskets following rebounds from the junior duo of Chase Silva and Makenna Tutthill. The Bullfrogs pushed their lead to 6-2 with a basket from Silva with an assist from freshman Maddie Kane. Valley Christian went on a 6-0 run to go ahead 8-6, but the Bullfrogs didn’t trail for long as Tutthill recorded an and-1 play and made the free throw to put her squad up by one. Bret Harte didn’t trail the rest of the night.
Tutthill added another free throw in the first quarter and that was followed by a basket from senior Ashlin Arias and two points from Fox. Bret Harte’s final points in the opening eight minutes came from Fox following a rebound and at the end of the quarter, Bret Harte led 16-11.
“Before the game, I told them that you have to punch first and you’ve gotta punch and punch and punch,” Eltringham said about coming out strong. “I told them that they needed to play hard throughout the whole game, and they wrapped their minds around that and that’s just what they did.”
Bret Harte’s scoring slowed down early in the second quarter and despite points from Tutthill, senior Kadyn Rolleri and Fox, Valley Christian cut the deficit to 21-20 with 4:06 to play in the half. The Bullfrogs got some separation from the Lions with five unanswered points from Kane. With Bret Harte up 26-22, Fox scored in the paint and Silva drained back-to-back shots from downtown. At halftime, Bret Harte had a strong 34-24 lead, which was much better than trailing by 16 a week prior in the section championship game.
The third quarter couldn’t have started any better for the Bullfrogs, as Silva scored six unanswered points. After Valley Christian scored to end the run, Silva drained her third shot from behind the arc to put the Bullfrogs up 42-26 with 4:51 to play in the quarter. Valley Christian mounted a small comeback following the Silva trey and two minutes later, Bret Harte only led by eight. The Bullfrogs ended the third quarter with points in the paint from Tutthill and Arias drained a 3-point basket at the buzzer to give Bret Harte a 49-37 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
The physicality was at its maximum in the fourth quarter and a combined 23 free throws were shot. One Bret Harte player who took on much of the physical play was Tutthill, but that didn’t stop her from having her best game of the playoffs, which included a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“I have been struggling in the paint, but I did help contribute tonight,” Tutthill said. “My team helped me so much because they were looking down low and were making good passes.”
Eltringham added, “It’s just so special for her to do what she did tonight. I knew that they (Valley Christian) were aggressive, and they were going to shove and push and to see her play like that, on this big stage with everyone watching was just amazing.”
Bret Harte got outscored 15-13 in the fourth quarter, but the Bullfrogs were able to hold on for the 10-point victory.
“Obviously, it’s nice to know that we did get redemption against them,” Fox said. “But we are just taking it game-by-game and not even thinking about the past and how they beat us last time. We just played our game tonight and it all worked out.”
Tutthill was not the only Bullfrog to finish the night with a double-double. Fox and Silva also had outstanding performances. Fox finished the night with 11 points, 13 rebounds, six steals and four assists, while Silva had 20 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and one assist. Arias scored five points and had two rebounds; Rolleri had six points, three rebounds, one steal, one block and two assists; and Kane had seven points, three rebounds and two assists.
For Rolleri, there couldn’t have been any better way for her to end her home Bret Harte basketball career.
“It makes me really sad to know that was my last game here, especially when I see how much our community supports us,” Rolleri said. “Walking in this gym and not expecting to see as big of a crowd as it was, was really heartwarming to see how many people really support our team. The fact that we won tonight in my last home game as a senior means a lot.”
Bret Harte entered the night as one of the two remaining CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V teams and ended the night as one of the two remaining CIF D5 teams left in Northern California. If the Bullfrogs plan on being one of the two remaining D5 teams left in California, they need to knock off No. 1 Fall River, who beat No. 12 Lincoln of San Francisco 63-50. The Fall River Bulldogs are 27-2 overall and haven’t lost since Dec. 30.
The idea of having to knock off a No. 1 seed doesn’t seem to bother Rolleri, as she knows what a huge accomplishment it is to even get the chance to play for the NorCal title.
“It’s an honor,” Rolleri said. “It’s awesome that our team has made it this far and we are so lucky to be that team who gets to play for the NorCal championship. We’ve worked so hard, and we do deserve this.”
Getting to Fall River won’t be a quick trip. On March 7, the Bullfrogs will make the over sixhour trip which will cover over 340 miles to get from Angels Camp to McArthur. This is a trip that Eltringham is happy to be making.
“I have never been this excited to sit on a bus for six hours to go and play someone and I hope they are too,” Eltringham said. “We are going to be ready for this. These girls are good at relaxing, so they’ll probably get their blankets out and their pillows and take a nap on the bus. That six-hour drive, I’m sure they’ll enjoy it and they’ll be sleeping a little bit and hopefully they’re excited to go up there and play ball.”
After playing 31 games in a season that began on Oct. 31, the Bret Harte players are just as excited to return to practice as they were on the first day of the season and they hope that following the battle with Fall River, there will be two more practices and one final game left to play.
“We are not tired of basketball; we are ready to win,” Tutthill said. “We want to keep coming to practice every single day at 3:30 and we want to see our coaches and we want to see our team and continue to play together.”
Fox added, “Hard work pays off. We’ve been pushing and have been wanting to make history.”
The winner of No. 1 Fall River and No. 3 Bret Harte will take on the winner of No. 2 San Pedro vs. No. 8 Marina for the CIF State Division V championship at 10 a.m. on March 10 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
For results from Bret Harte at Fall River, visit calaveras enterprise.com. And to view and purchase pictures from Bret Harte vs. Valley Christian, visit calaverasenterprise.com.
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