McFarland High head coach Johnny Samaniego chose to focus on the positives of a 50-38 loss in the CIF Central Section Division IV championship game last Saturday morning.
Sure, his players made only 1 of 10 free throws in the first half.
And key player Neli Díaz had an off game with only six points and four fouls that limited her playing time. The senior guard had averaged 18.1 points a game coming into the game against San Joaquín Memorial.
Yet, the No. 2-seeded Lady Cougars were only down 28-20 at halftime. Unfortunately, those struggles continued in the second half as Memorial pulled away from a 50-38 win.
“I hope we can duplicate what Sierra Pacific did last year which is to go on and win state,” said Samaniego following the game.
Sunday afternoon, Samaniego got his wish.
McFarland (27-5) received a No. 1 seed in the CIF Southern California Division III playoffs and will host No. 16 Oxnard at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 26). Oxnard is 23-7.
Samaniego wanted the season to continue.
“It’s been a great season,” said Samaniego, who labels this year’s squad “the best team I’ve ever coached” in his 13 seasons.
Memorial presented a problem with its height advantage as three of its players were taller than McFarland senior center Kathy Rodríguez at 5-foot-10.
“Part of our gameplan was to keep them off the boards,” said Samaniego.
Memorial 6-footer Aunjona James grabbed 13 rebounds and scored 12 points to lead the Lady Panthers. Teammate Macie James pitched in 12 points.
“We played our hearts out,” said Rodríguez, who grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and scored a team-high 9 points. She left the game briefly in the fourth quarter after injuring her back while tripping on an opponent’s shoes.
“They’re really, really tall,” said Rodríguez about Memorial. “We did what we needed to do, but their length and height helped them a lot.”
McFarland sank 10 of 28 free throws for the game, and made only 29.5 percent of its shots.