PATTERSON -- The Hilmar High guards seemed to be trapped in the backcourt as time ticked away.
Lindsey Mendes, Jessica Paine and Alyssa McFaddin could only pass the ball among themselves, trying to break Patterson's full-court press. With only seconds left on the shot clock, Paine whipped a pass to Yellowjackets center Caitlin Benning on the wing. She let fly, and the ball swished through the net, a big 3-pointer for Hilmar.
That shot late in the fourth quarter kept the Yellowjackets on top as they put the finishing touches on the school's first girls basketball league title in 27 years with a 46-39 victory over the Tigers on Thursday night at Patterson High.
Hilmar (23-3, 13-2) will open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs at home Tuesday. The Yellowjackets were ranked third in the final power ratings, and playoff seeds will be announced Sunday. Patterson (14-13, 10-5) was 16th in Division III coming in, and only 16 teams in each division make the postseason.
After the victory, the Hilmar players and coach Paul Willis were congratulated by the large Hilmar contingent with hugs and handshakes. The Yellowjackets had already clinched the outright Western Athletic Conference title, but Thursday's game was the season finale.
"When it's been that long since your last league title, the pressure ratchets up as the season develops," Willis said. "I thought the girls did a great job of handling all that adversity. I'm proud of them."
Mendes, the team's point guard, led the way with 11 points. Benning and Paine each finished with 10.
In addition, Paine defended Patterson leading scorer Cassie Coble, who scored a team-high 14 points. The two players had some intense battles in the post and on the perimeter.
The championship was a long time coming for the Yellowjackets.
"This is a good group of girls, a good team," Mendes said. "We had the individual talent, but at some point during the season it all started clicking. It was just out of the blue."
That spark, said Willis, came in the form of two consecutive losses, to WAC opponents Patterson and Livingston.
"That was the gut-check," he said. "After that, the girls really started playing well."
And into the playoffs.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.