Before the start of the fourth quarter, Chowchilla High girls basketball coach Don Smith reminded his players how they got to the Central Section championship game.
The key word was “trust.”
“Since the start of the playoffs it’s been a team effort,” Smith said. “We have have so much trust and faith in each other, it doesn’t matter who makes the shot or who gets the big rebound. We’re all in it.”
The Tribe then went out and scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to take control and eventually end a 31-year drought with a 49-41 win over Firebaugh in the Central Section Division V final on Friday afternoon at Selland Arena.
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Chowchilla won its first girls basketball Valley championship since 1987.
“I’m really happy, like crying happy,” said Tribe junior Adriana Felsinger, who finished with nine points and seven rebounds. “I can’t believe this is happening right now.”
Felsinger drained a 3-pointer and scored inside to give Chowchilla a 41-35 lead with 5:40 left in the game.
Samantha Rico, who chipped in with six points and eight rebounds, then hit one of two free throws and then scored on a putback to extend the Tribe lead to 44-35 with 4:32 remaining.
It wasn’t long before the Tribe were trying on championship hats and T-shirts.
“I don’t know how to put this in words,” said Alison Cargill, who led Chowchilla with 13 points and seven rebounds before fouling out late in the game. “It’s still so surreal. It hasn’t hit me just yet.”
Chowchilla (17-12) had to shake off some early nerves which came with playing on the big stage for the first time in years.
Fifth-seeded Firebaugh (22-9) took advantage of 10 first-quarter turnovers by Chowchilla to take an 11-7 lead after the first quarter.
The Eagles extended the lead to 20-12 midway through the second quarter.
However, No. 2 Chowchilla surged in front with a 13-0 run late in the second quarter. Cargill led the charge, scoring eight of her 13 points in the last 2 minutes and 45 seconds of the first half. The Tribe senior also assisted on Chowchilla’s two other baskets during the run.
“In my mind, I had to pick it up,” Cargill said. “I had to get everybody going. Once we got out in front, everybody was like, ‘We can get this.’ We started believing we can do this.”
The biggest blow for Firebaugh came late in the first half when leading scorer Mirayha Gonzales was whistled for her fourth foul when she collided with Cargill going for a loose ball.
Gonzales, who averages 17 points per game, didn’t reenter the game until the start of the fourth quarter. Gonzales scored nine of her 11 points in the first half.
“That was huge,” said Firebaugh coach Betty Carmona. “She leads us in scoring almost every time. Without her, our offense struggled.”
The Eagles made just 2 of 18 shots from beyond the 3-point line in the second half. Marissa Gutierrez led Firebaugh with 15 points.
Meanwhile, Chowchilla received contributions from 10 players who all played at least 12 minutes. Eight different players scored for the Tribe and six different players recorded at least five rebounds, including 10 rebounds from Pria Cooper off the bench.
“Going into the fourth quarter, I told the girls this is our time,” Smith said. “We’ve been in this position before. The energy is there. We just have to execute like we can, play smart and this is ours.”