While covering two separate high school sporting events this past week, the subject of Mariposa High’s boys basketball section championship game came up.
One sports reporter thought it was one of the coolest things he’s seen this season, referring to how the Mariposa fans made the trip to Sacramento to support the team. A member of the Sac-Joaquin Section office called it the highlight of his time working for the section.
Not only was the Grizzlies’ 79-75 overtime victory at Sleep Train Arena exciting, who will forget Mariposa’s Jacob Baca banking a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime?
It was the atmosphere which made it unforgettable.
That night was what high school sports should be about. It was fun watching the whole town get behind the team.
Mariposa decided to close school to allow the students who wanted to make the trip to Sacramento to do so.
Sun-Star reporter Sean Lynch and myself passed the Grizzlies’ caravan of six rooter buses on our way to Sacramento. The Grizzlies easily had the biggest rooting section of any of the section finalists that weekend at Sleep Train Arena.
You can’t tell me it didn’t help the Mariposa players on the court. To be able to look up in the stands and see a sea of green. And the crowd was so loud.
When Baca hit the three-pointer, that place exploded.
My favorite story out of Mariposa winning its first section basketball title is how the team treated the blue banner like the Stanley Cup. The banner turned up in pictures with youth basketball teams. The team took the banner around to local businesses who helped support the team throughout the season.
It was quite the year for Mariposa, which won section titles in boys basketball, wrestling, boys golf, softball and baseball. The softball title was the third straight section crown for the Grizzlies.
It’s was a fun year for Merced County as we watched many teams win league titles and seven teams win section titles.
That’s as many as I can remember for one school year in our area. One of the fun parts of our job as high school sports reporters is going along for the ride when teams go on long postseason runs.
We were able to experience that this fall when both Chowchilla and Stone Ridge Christian won section titles and played in NorCal bowls.
The two teams were very similar, running an old-school type of offense in the double-wing. Both teams had a smash-mouth attitude that started with big, strong offensive lines.
The Knights set a state record with 10 consecutive shutouts on their way to winning a second consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
Stone Ridge Christian then blew out Mission of San Francisco, 70-21, in a NorCal Bowl play-in game. The Knights’ run finally came to an end in the NorCal Division VI-AA Bowl with a 34-14 loss to East Nicolaus.
Chowchilla won its first Valley Championship since 2008 with a 20-16 victory over Washington Union in the Division IV title game.
Like Mariposa, it was awesome to see the town of Chowchilla get behind the football team, especially in the final season Chowchilla will be allowed to use Redskins as a mascot. Fans showed up two hours before the Southern California Bowl Game against Fairfax and filled Henry Massaro Stadium to watch the Redskins win 28-16.
Another standing-room-only crowd showed up the following week to watch a thrilling CIF Division IV-A State Bowl Game. Sierra drove down in the final minutes to defeat Chowchilla 20-15.
The crowd still gave the Redskins a standing ovation to show their appreciation after the game.
While a season like that just adds to the tradition of a program like Chowchilla, a new school, El Capitan, is building a strong foundation.
In just the second year of varsity competition, the Gauchos had an impressive 2015-16 campaign. The school won Western Athletic Conference championships in girls golf, boys and girls water polo, volleyball, boys basketball, baseball and boys and girls swimming. That makes two straight years for both boys and girls water polo and boys and girls swimming.
The Gaucho girls water polo and baseball teams also played for section titles, but came up short.
The Gauchos will say goodbye to the WAC and enter the Central California Conference next season.
Some of the other highlights of the year included:
▪ The Merced High football team won its third consecutive conference title and extended its conference winning streak to 18 consecutive games. The Bears have won six of the last 10 CCC championships.
▪ Merced’s boys continued their dominance in the pool, winning their eighth consecutive swimming championship, going 72-0 during their run. The boys water polo team also won its third consecutive championship.
▪ Led by league MVP Marissa Wyans, the Golden Valley girls water polo team ended a long drought by winning its first CCC championship since 2007.
▪ The Cougars’ girls basketball team won its second consecutive conference championship by going 10-0 in the CCC for the second straight season.
▪ The Atwater High boys soccer team enjoyed a second straight CCC title and reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals before losing to Jesuit. The Falcons have compiled a very impressive 48-5-7 record the past two seasons.
▪ The Merced High softball team continued its impressive run with a sixth consecutive CCC championship. The Bears have compiled an 81-9 CCC record in the past six seasons.
▪ The Hilmar High football team shared the Trans-Valley League championship with Ripon and came up one win shy of joining Stone Ridge Christian and Chowchilla in the regional bowl games. The Yellowjackets lost to Bradshaw Christian 28-18 in the Division VI championship game.
▪ The Hilmar volleyball team won its third consecutive TVL title and for the third straight year lost to Sonora in the Division IV championship game.
▪ The Stone Ridge Christian volleyball team also made another run to the Division VI championship game. The Knights finished as the runner-up for the third straight year.
▪ Delhi junior Jesse Flores was quite a story this winter when he became the first Hawks wrestler to qualify for the CIF State Meet. The Delhi heavyweight came home with a seventh-place medal.
▪ Merced High’s Daniel Ambriz turned heads this fall when he became the third male in Merced High history to win an individual section championship when he won the Division II title. Led by Ambriz and Julian Johnson, Merced won its third consecutive cross country championship.
▪ The Buhach Colony wrestling team sent out its seniors in style by winning its first CCC title since 2007.
▪ The Los Banos girls tennis team went 12-0 to extend its WAC winning streak to 72 consecutive matches.
The end of the school year also marks the end of some fabulous prep careers. We’ve watched some amazing female athletes like Hilmar’s Emily Baptista (volleyball), Golden Valley’s Stephanie Moore (basketball), Merced’s Lexi Thompson (basketball) and Madilyn Nickles (softball). On Thursday, Nickles was named the Gatorade California Softball Player of the Year.
It’ll be fun to follow all four ladies as they begin their college careers.
On the boys side, Merced’s A.J. Stewart was exciting to watch on the football field and the basketball court. Chowchilla’s Anthony Stewart is one of the few football players who can say he started all four years in high school. El Capitan’s Isaiah Knott helped the Gauchos win a WAC championship and was named the league MVP in basketball.
It was a fun ride and I can’t wait to see what story lines emerge next year.