McFarland High head coach Johnny Samaniego knew that if the girls basketball team was to survive to the next round of the Southern California Division III playoffs, they would have to go through senior co-captain Kathy Rodríguez.
The 5-foot-10 center carried the Cougars to the a second-round appointment at 7 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 28) by scoring a season-high 28 points in a thrilling 68-56 win over Oxnard High on Tuesday night.
“We knew we had to go through her (Rodríguez) to get to the next round,” said Samaniego, whose team remains unbeaten at home this season at 8-0.
Senior guard Neli Díaz contributed with 16 points and made some key steals as McFarland pulled away from a 56-56 tie with 2:22 left in the game by shutting down the Yellowjackets’ three-point assault.
Oxnard, which ended its season at 23-8, bombed away some rainbow 3-point shots, making seven of them to remain in the same. Junior guard Myesha Lumas paced Oxnard with 24 points, including a trio of 3-point baskets.
Díaz, whose team is 27-2 when she scores at least 10 points, made her presence known with a put-back on an offensive rebound to give McFarland a lead at 58-56 that it would never relinquish.
The 5-7 senior, who finished with 16 points, added a 3-point shot to extend the lead to 62-56 a few plays later.
“I don’t think Oxnard is a No. 16 seed,” said Samaniego. “I think they are more a 2 seed.”
Samaniego had his team switch from a 3-2 defense to zone to man-to-man in an effort to hold down Oxnard’s scoring from the outside.
Oxnard enjoyed a 34-28 lead, only to see McFarland take a 38-35 lead on a 3-pointer by sophomore Shania Perry. However, the Yellowjackets, who had a pair of 6-footers make life miserable under the boards, always managed to claw back into the game.
The visitors, who also faced a packed gym of mostly McFarland supporters who showed up as early as 4:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game, stayed within striking distance but could never regain a lead that at one point got to 8 points in the opening half.
“This was a tough game,” said Samaniego. “We just worked hard for the entire 32 minutes.”
Rodríguez, who managed to get the key rebounds, said McFarland was motivated to do better than it did the previous Saturday in a 50-38 loss to San Joaquín Memorial in the CIF Central Section Division IV championship.
“Memorial pushed us to actually win this game,” said Rodríguez. “We had to win and not leave it like that.”
Against Memorial, McFarland made only 10 of 28 free throws and Díaz was held to six points.
McFarland posted a 36-30 win over Oxnard to capture the Arvin Showcase Tournament in late December, but both teams were playing their third game in two days and the offenses didn’t click that day.
McFarland improves to 28-5 on the season.