Sierra High was playing its third game in three days, including a trip to South Central Los Ángeles the previous night.
Coalinga High senior Serena Ybarra relied on pure adrenaline Thursday night. In the end, she fouled out of a game that was in her team’s grasp with less than 8 seconds left in regulation.
It was the Chieftains who had enough fuel to pull out a dramatic 62-60 overtime thriller over host Coalinga in the second round of the CIF Southern Section girls basketball playoffs.
Their reward: A 6-hour road trip to face Ramona High in the section semifinals.
And, this was a team that was mistakenly penciled in for the playoffs!
CIF officials mistakenly wrote in Sierra High (now 20-14) into the Division V playoffs instead of Tulare Union. When the error was discovered, officials had Tulare travel to Sierra for a lead-in game.
Sierra responded with a 59-56 win over Tulare, followed by a 71-25 victory over Locke High.
Then came a roller coaster game against third-seeded Coalinga (26-5), which trailed most of the game, including 58-52 with about 2 minutes left in the game.
So, does getting labeled as the team that made the playoffs by mistake provide some incentive for Sierra?
“Heck yeah! That gave us a little fuel for our fire,” said Sierra head coach Bobie Begaye. “We should’ve been in the playoffs, and we are. We’re proving it!”
Sierra – which relied on 5-foot-10 sophomore center Sydney Wyman who scored 18 points and blocked at least 6 shots – had a 10-point lead at one point only to see Coalinga bounce back time and again.
“This game was a battle start to finish,” said Begaye. “Both teams played hard, and we wanted it so bad. The girls put it all out there on the floor.”
Sierra, which has practiced its free throw shooting, managed to make 14 of 21. Coalinga converted on 17 of 30 free throws.
The biggest free throws came with 12 seconds left in a game tied at 60-all in overtime when Wyman sank a pair of shots after being fouled by Ybarra when she missed a go-ahead layup. Ybarra fouled out of the game at that point.
Coalinga had taken a 60-59 lead on Ybarra’s final points of the game when she drove in for a layup with less than 24 seconds left in overtime. Coalinga stole the inbounds pass but lost possession, allowing Sierra to tie it with one of two free throws made with 11.8 seconds left in overtime.
The game was sent into overtime when Anita Deleón drove the length of the court with less than 7 seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 48-all.
Ybarra, who sank 14 of 18 free throws, almost carried Coalinga High to victory.
“We were so close,” said the lefty who has recovered from a knee injury. “It happens that you lose a game, or win a game.”
Ybarra got into early foul trouble.
“I was going on adrenaline,” she said.
Coalinga High didn’t protect the ball well enough. Sierra’s height, she said, wasn’t that big a problem because Coalinga has faced tall opponents before.
“We just didn’t box out,” said Ybarra.
Begaye praised Ybarra as “a very good player.”