The Mt. Whitney boys basketball team entered the 2012-13 season without many outside expectations.
The Pioneers were the two-time defending West Yosemite League champions, but after graduating their entire starting lineup, they were supposed to be in rebuilding mode.
Somebody forgot to tell Mt. Whitney that.
Mt. Whitney captured a third straight WYL championship last week, and on Wednesday night, the No. 3-seeded Pioneers cruised into the Central Section Division III quarterfinals with a 75-40 victory over No. 14 McLane in Visalia.
“I love that we’re the underdog team,” Mt. Whitney senior Garabed Kalanjian said. “Everybody had us down. People thought we’d barely go .500 and they thought we’d be second to last in the WYL. To come out on top is amazing.”
After winning WYL and after Wednesday night’s impressive performance, Kalanjian admitted the Pioneers might not be sneaking up on anybody anymore.
Mt. Whitney will host No. 6 Dinuba at 6 p.m. Friday, and the Pioneers should head into that game with a lot of confidence.
“Our confidence is very high right now,” Mt. Whitney guard Ethan Moore said. “I think we can make a run. If we play to our ability and what we’re capable of, then we can make a run.”
The reason Moore and the Pioneers have every reason to be confident was apparent in Wednesday’s game.
The Pioneers had three players in double figures.
Dannon Frigulti scored a game-high 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds, Moore finished with 16 points, and Kalanjian added 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“We try not to rely on just one person,” Mt. Whitney coach Bob Aguilar said. “Tonight, we had some guys step up. Dannon found his game in the second half, and Ethan and Garabed performed well. Teams that prepare for us can’t key in on one guy. They have to look at more than just one.”
Mt. Whitney was in control against McLane from the opening tip, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. The Pioneers led 33-19 at halftime, and put the game away in the third quarter.
Aguilar said he was very pleased with the balanced scoring his team displayed, but he was also very happy with the defensive performance.
“We know that if we’re going to make a serious run, we have to play defense,” Aguilar said. “Our goal was to hold them to 44 points tonight and we met that goal. We mixed up defenses and the kids executed like we drew it up in practice.”
Not only are the Pioneers playing with a lot of confidence right now, they are also playing with a purpose.
Kalanjian was big part of last year’s team that reached the Central Section Division III championship game and lost on a 35-foot buzzer beater by Ridgeview.
He said he uses that as motivation to try and get back to that game.
“We have so much motivation. That shot, you have to give it to them, but I think we should’ve won,” Kalanjian said. “I watch that all the time to motivate me to do better every game and get back to where we were last year.”
The Pioneers know it won’t be easy to get back to Selland Arena for a Division III title game. They host Dinuba on Friday, and waiting for them in a possible semifinal game would be No. 2 Mission Oak or No. 7 Roosevelt.
Aguilar is not looking past Dinuba.
“I know they will be prepared,” Aguilar said. “They’ll play so stinkin’ hard. They like to push the ball up and be in your grill. We expect a barn burner. I know they’ll come in and play hard.”