SACRAMENTO – Caruthers made 12 of its first 15 field goal attempts, its first five three-pointers, and 10 of its first 13 free throws against Ramona. A sizable but not insurmountable first quarter advantage turned momentous by halftime, and despite cooling off significantly in the second half, the Blue Raiders coasted to a 62-38 victory in the CIF State Division V Championship at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
“We’ve constantly pushed them both mentally and physically to outperform each other in practice,” Caruthers coach Anna Almedia said. “Our girls have done a really good job of focusing…they’re relentless.”
Three players for Caruthers notched double figures in scoring: Jaque Magana had 13, Felicia Ramirez tacked on 12, and Jacklyn Kulow added 11. Magana and Ramirez pulled down seven rebounds apiece in a game which saw plenty of such opportunities. Ramona shot 4-of-23 in the first half and 25% (14-for-56) for the game. Lizbeth Garcia was the outlier for the Rams, netting four three-pointers, shooting 5-for-12 overall, and finishing with a team-high 15 points. Savannah Petty, who entered the game with a 16.3 ppg average, struggled from the field and finished with nine points and 12 rebounds.
“We practiced in this warehouse…that kind of resembled what we would play right here in the arena here today,” Magana said.
Caruthers (32-4), which only three days earlier traveled 470 miles to come away with the NorCal title in Eureka versus St. Bernard’s, came out on fire and didn’t show any signs of travel legs or big stage jitters. Anna Marshall started things off with a steal and coast-to-coast layup on the opening possession. Ramirez hit a bank shot in the lane, Magana sank the first of her three three-pointers, in seemingly in a blink of an eye Caruthers was up 7-0. Garcia responded with a three of her own and Ramona went on a mini-run. But 10-7 with 4:08 left was the closest the Rams would get. At the end of one they found themselves down 24-9, and then the second quarter happened.
Ramona (23-13) scored with 6:31 remaining in the first half and didn’t score again. Caruthers jumped on the opportunity, and when Magana made it 39-11 with 4:03 to go, Ramona called time and tried to regroup. While the Rams wouldn’t find any kind of rhythm yet, Caruthers began its downward slide, managing just three points from then until the first half buzzer.
“That was maybe one of the most perfect halves of basketball I’ve seen a team play,” Ramona coach Brandon Fletcher remarked. “We threw everything that we possibly could think of at them. We didn’t help ourselves with our turnovers and our missed shots. But second half I felt like we got back to who we are.”
While Ramona never felt viable in the second half, it did make a commendable run at making it a more respectable margin. The Rams stayed about even in the third and in the fourth outscored the Blue Raiders 13-7.
“We were just holding each other accountable,” Petty commented about the second half. “Just making sure when we do step out on the floor, it’s Ramona.”
By the final buzzer, Ramona had come close to par with Caruthers in multiple statistical categories, but with six less field goals and nine fewer free throws the Blue Raiders had certainly earned their first-ever CIF state title. It was both teams’ first shot at one.
To get to the championship, three-seed Caruthers dispatched 14-seed Woodland Christian 60-35, six-seed Mariposa County 52-40, 10-seed Gridley 57-50, and then upset #1 St. Bernard’s 52-44. Almedia spoke about the strong community of Caruthers (population 2,500, located just south of Fresno), and how the school allowed for an extra day of travel to the NorCal Final (“I’ve been babysitting 19 kids since Sunday,” she joked).
After a perfect 12-0 mark in the West Sequoia League, Caruthers was the top seed in the Central Section playoffs and as the #1 seed defeated #2 Coalinga. The Blue Raiders have compiled at least 20 wins in each of the last six seasons, and in 2017 were a lower seed in the Southern Section.
Ramona had a much different trajectory coming into the game. The Southern Region queens were a modest 6-4, good for third, in the River Valley League, then fell short of a Southern Section Division 4AA Championship when they lost in the semifinals.
“The end result doesn’t define our journey,” Fletcher said. “We were the last girls team in the IU left. We wanted to represent, just feeling that support and emotion and being able to do that for our region is really, really special”
For long-time coach Almedia, whom Ramirez likens to a “second mom,” the victory is just a little bittersweet.
“It’s kind of like watching your kids graduate,” she said. “You’re super excited that they grow up to be an adult, but then super sad you’re going to lose them.”