Since forming the Mission Oak girls basketball program during the 2008-09 school year, Dave Caetano has made a point of attending the Central Section Basketball Championships at Selland Arena.
Caetano finds a seat somewhere near midcourt in the loge section, and normally watches most of the 10 games played over the two-day period.
“The atmosphere the Central Section has created at Selland Arena is the ultimate atmosphere for high school basketball. It’s the closest thing to the NCAA Tournament that a lot of these kids are going to play in,” Caetano said.
Caetano is going to have a much different seat for the 2015 Central Section Basketball Championships which begin today at Selland Arena — Caetano and the Hawks will be taking part in the Division III girls championship game Saturday afternoon.
“Making it to Selland Arena is a remarkable feat for our program,” Caetano said. “The goal we set is to make it to Selland Arena, but it’s also about the journey. We need to experience and appreciate what we’ve accomplished to make it this point. I want them to enjoy the moment.
“The freshmen are really surprised they made it in their first year, and then you have someone like Kaelah (Mundley), who said, ‘This is what I’ve been working for for the last four years.’ This is just a heartwarming experience as a coach. To see these kids grow and develop into a team has been something to see. They’ve really come together as a team. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Mission Oak is going to have a presence today and Saturday at the section finals.
The Mission Oak boys take on defending Division II champion Hanford in tonight’s Division II championship game. Game time is 8 p.m.
The Mission Oak girls make their first Central Section title-game appearance against Fresno in Saturday’s Division III final. Game time is 2 p.m.
There are three other Tulare County teams in the finals: Porterville boys (Division III), Granite Hills boys (Division IV) and Orosi girls (Division IV).
Here’s a capsule look at the Central Section championship games involving Tulare County teams (all games at Selland Arena):
No. 1 Mission Oak (29-1) vs. No. 2 Hanford (25-4): The Hawks have been the No. 1-ranked team in Division II all season, their first season in Division II. They have won 25 straight games, and have scored at least 60 points in 14 straight contests (an impressive feat for high school basketball). Mission Oak is averaging 72.7 points per game during the playoffs. The defending Division II champion Bullpups have won nine straight games, including postseason victories over Lemoore (65-39) and Ridgeview (51-48), two of the more formidable teams in the Division II bracket.
Tip-off: 8 p.m. today
Familiar foes: This marks the third time the Hawks and Bullpups have squared off this season. Mission Oak won the previous two meetings. The Hawks won 64-58 in a Dec. 12 Kings County Classic game, and edged the Bullpups 60-57 in the Dec. 20 title game of the Dinuba Holiday Classic.
Mission Oak scouting report: The Hawks feature an outstanding quartet in senior Jonell Burton (16.6 points per game), and juniors Austin Molezzo (16.7 ppg), Tanner Murphy (12.4 ppg) and Will Shannon (12.8) ppg. But the Hawks would probably not be here today if it wasn’t for Le’Andre Jefferson, who had 14 key points in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Roosevelt. Jefferson has scored at least 10 points in three of the last four games. X-factor is Molezzo. During the second quarter of Wednesday’s contest, Molezzo displayed the form that have led many in this area to believe he’s the premier player in Tulare County. However, Molezzo labored during the fourth quarter and it was obvious he was having some trouble with his injured knee. If Molezzo can stay on the floor and play close to his potential, you have to like Mission Oak’s chances. The Hawks average 71.7 points per game, the second-best mark in the Central Section. What separates the Hawks from most section teams is that they have quality scoring sources who can score in a variety of ways — Burton is a terrific one-on-one player and great in transition; Murphy provides the tough points down in the paint; Shannon can score from the perimeter and with drives to the basket (he’s developed a quality floater); Molezzo can do a bit of everything when he’s healthy.
Hanford scouting report: The Bullpups do not feature a plethora of top-notch scoring options, but collectively, they arguably have one of top three team defenses in the Central Section. Two of Mission Oak’s lowest-scoring games of the season were against Hanford. The Bullpups limited West Yosemite League foes to under 52 points in 11 of 12 contests. Hanford’s defense continues to be prolific in the postseason (yielding an average of less than 47 points per game). Players to keep an eye on are Juwuane Hughes, Devin Lourenco and Ryan Johnson.
The buzz: Preseason conventional wisdom was that these two teams would meet in the Division II final. Very intriguing matchup in terms of Mission Oak’s strength — scoring prowess, offensive versatility — against Hanford’s forte (excellent team defense). Since the Central Section starting holding the section title games at Selland Arena in 2005, history tells us that strong defensive teams normally have a distinct advantage — offenses seem to have a tough time adjusting to the atmosphere. However, Mission Oak’s offensive versatility should curb those worries. If the Hawks can generate a couple of game-defining runs, great chance that they make up for their 2013 Selland Arena appearance (a heart-breaking 62-60 loss to Independence in the Division III final). If you go by the Maxpreps.com state rankings, this could be the best contest over the two days — Mission Oak is ranked No. 123 and Hanford is No. 125.
No. 2 Porterville (20-7) vs. No. 1 West (22-9): Porterville has strnug together three solid games to reach the finals — the Panthers defeated No. 15 McLane 70-55, No. 10 Golden Valley 77-63 and No. 3 Tehachapi 71-59. West is an offensive groove. The Vikings have scored 169 points over their last two games, including an 87-63 victory over No. 4 Selma on Wednesday.
Tip-off: 4 p.m. Saturday
The buzz: If it wasn’t for Mission Oak, Porterville would be the toast of Tulare County boys basketball. Porterville has only had one loss to a team not named Mission Oak since Dec. 19 (Frontier). You have to wonder if there are going to be any costly suspensions for Porterville because of a bench-clearing brawl near the end of Wednesday’s semifinal win over Tehachapi. No player was ejected from the game according to the Porterville Recorder. There was a picture published by the Porterville Recorder that depicts CIF Central Section commissioner Jim Crichlow trying to break up the rucus. Porterville’s key player is junior point guard Elijah Moreno. If Moreno can control the pace of the game, the Panthers have a viable shot of upsetting West.
No. 7 Granite Hills (21-5) vs. No. 1 Immanuel (28-2): Granite Hills may be the biggest surprise team at Selland Arena. The seventh-seeded Grizzlies knocked off No. 2 RFK 51-49 in the quarterfinals and upended No. 3 Bakersfield Christian 58-46 on Wednesday. Immanuel has won its first three playoff games by an average margin of 43.3 points per game.
Tip-off: Noon, Saturday
The buzz: Immanuel is widely regarded as the No. 1 overall team in the Central Section, and a bona fide contender for a state title. Granite Hills features the Central Section’s leading scorer in senior Kilon Bradford (28.2 points per game). Bradford, an all-Tulare County player-of-the-year candidate, has been on fire in the postseason with 101 points in three games, including 38 pionts in the victory over Bakersfield Christian. Immanuel junior guard Colin Slater is averaging over 20 points per game, and is considered a Class of 2016 recruiting priority for Fresno State. If Granite Hills is within 25 points of Immanuel, it would be considered a huge surprise. Immanuel is averaging a section-leading 74.3 points per game.
No. 2 Mission Oak (26-5) vs No. 1 Fresno (24-4): History-making season for Mission Oak. The Hawks captured their first East Yosemite League championship, posted their first 25-win season, and are in the section finals for the first time. Mission Oak’s run to Selland Arena required wins over No. 15 Frontier (57-30), No. 7 Golden West (47-45) and No. 6 Arvin (58-37). After opening the posteason with sound wins over No. 16 Foothill (63-46) and No. 8 Exeter (59-27), the top-seeded Warriors almost got tripped up in the semifinals against No. 5 Sanger — Frseno prevailed 50-48.
Tip-off: 2 p.m., Saturday
Familiar foes: This marks the third gam e this season between the Hawks and Warriors. Fresno won the previous two meetings — 48-40 on Dec. 4 (Selma Tournament) and 52-26 on Jan. 10 (Immanuel Tournament). Mission Oak has won 15 straight games since its second loss to Fresno.
Mission Oak scouting report: The Hawks have developed into a well-rounded team with leading scorer Tristen Myers (11.9 ppg, 10.4 rebounds per game) receiving plenty of help from freshman guards Kambryia Elzy (10.5 ppg) and Rhegan Fernandes (7.8 ppg). There are also quality scoring options in senior Kaelah Mundley, sophomore Samantha Ruvalcaba and freshman center Samantha Arellano. When the Hawks are playing their best, it’s with their defensive intensity. Mission Oak is averaging 11.3 steals per game.
Fresno scouting report: Fresno’s Desiree Harding ranks third in the Central Section in scoring (19.8 points per game). Harding accounted for 29 of the Warriors’ 50 points in the semifinal win over Sanger. She scored a combined 33 points in Fresno’s previous two wins over Mission Oak. Other player to watch for Fresno is senior Tiffany Smith (11.1 ppg).
The buzz: A look at the score from Jan. 10 meeting between these two teams (52-26 Fresno) suggests that the Warriors should be considered a strong favorite. However, Mission Oak has improved tremendously in recent weeks. The top concern for Mission Oak is its overall consistency. If the Hawks played like they did Tuesday in the semifinals, this could be one of the better games over the next two days. Outstanding defensive play noramlly translates into Selland Arena succcess, and Mission Oak has the potential to give Fresno’s offense fits.
No. 1 Orosi (27-2) vs. No. 2 Immanuel (21-6): Orosi earned a spot in the finals with three dominant postseason wins. The Cardinals trounced No. 16 Fowler 73-15, followed that up with a 66-35 win over No. 9 Kerman, and downed No. 5 Porterville 50-22 in the semifinals. Immanuel has been impressive as well. Immanuel topped No. 15 Coalinga 64-24, defeated No. 7 Washington Union 50-28 and eliminated No. 3 Taft, 57-35.
Tip-off: 10 a.m., Saturday
The buzz: Can Immanuel give the top-seeded Cardinals a challenge? No team has scored more than 40 points against Orosi since Jan. 1, and Orosi is averaging 64.1 points per game during its current 17-game winning streak. Cassidy Rodriguez has scored 29 points over Orosi’s last two games. Immanuel has won 15 straight games. Kingsburg is the lone team to have scored more than 40 points against Immanuel during the Eagles’ current winning streak.