There's no place like home.
Sure, the holy grail for Central Section basketball teams for sometime now has been to make it to Fresno's Selland Arena to play for the Valley title.
But on Thursday night, the Strathmore High girls basketball team received the rare chance to do really something special that hadn't been done by the Spartans since the 1990s and may never be done again. Win a Valley title at home.
It was a long time coming for SHS and Spartan coach Rich Miranda as Strathmore beat Corcoran for the third time this season 73-60 to win the Valley Division V title on Thursday at Strathmore High's Spartan Gym.
It was the fourth trip to the Valley Finals for Strathmore under Miranda, who has been the program's coach for a total of 17 years, including the last 16 seasons. But it was the first time SHS won the Valley title under Miranda as it was making its second straight trip to the Valley Finals after making it to Selland Arena in 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic took over.
“Oh many, you know finally, to finally accomplish it was a great feeling,” Miranda said. Miranda said he was beginning to wonder “if it was ever going to happen. But it's a great feeling.”
It's also Strathmore's first Valley title in girls basketball since 1996. Strathmore won six Valley titles in seven years in the 1990s during that time when head coach Richard Smithey was able to establish a dynasty.
It was also the last time Strathmore won a Valley title at home. Until now. “You have to cherish it,” said Miranda about what he told his team on winning the Valley title at home.
“Selland is great,” Miranda said. But about playing at home on Thursday, “the atmosphere was great. Having people there, the community to show up.”
He said the one good thing that came out of the pandemic was the chance Strathmore had to play all of its section playoff games at home. “Everybody had to be playing at Strathmore,” Miranda said.
“The girls worked hard and were able to make this championship happen. I give them the credit with all the craziness going on.”
Thursday's game was the third meeting between SHS and Corcoran with Strathmore winning the first two meetings. “I always say it's difficult to beat a team three times,” Miranda said. “It was a great game back and forth. We had a lead but we could enver just pull away from them.”
Not suprisingly Strathmore was led by senior Jazmine Soto, who rose to the occasion on the most important game of the year when she scored 42 points. But unlike last year when only Soto and two other players scored in last year's Valley title game, SHS had a deeper team this time, with several players contributing to the win against Corcoran.
Sherry Chapa and Yvette Gutierrez each scored eight points and freshman point guard Alexis Ibarra also stepped up, scoring seven points. Miranda added Abi Mejia “was relentless on the boards” and on defense.
Erika Munoz also hit a key three-pointer for SHS when Corcoran was cutting into the lead. Corcoran had cut Strathmore's lead from 14 to nine when the three by Munoz pushed the lead back up to 12.
Strathmore led 20-12 late in the first quarter when Corcoran hit a three to cut the lead to 20-15 at the end of the quarter. The Spartans extended their lead to nine at halftime. “The second quarter we started to play really well,” Miranda said.
But the fourth quarter, SHS led by as much as 16 points.
Soto, of course is the all-time leading scorer in Central Section girls history and in Tulare County history for both boys and girls basketball with 3,227 points. And Soto will be able to add to that total as Strathmore has advanced to the Southern Section State Playoffs.
The Southern Section playoffs will be an eight-team playoff with the quarterfinals scheduled for Tuesday, the semifinals set for Thursday and the championship game set for a week from today, Saturday, June 19.
Strathmore (18-6) is currently ranked No. 3 in the state in Division III and theoretically is the No. 1 team in the Southern Section as the two teams ranked ahead of the Spartans are in the Northern Section.
But Miranda said it's hard to determine how SHS will be seeded as other Southern Section teams could drop down from their section Division IV playoffs to compete in the Division V Southern State event. “It's kind of hit and miss,” said Miranda about the seedings.
Strathmore obviously hopes to at least receive a first round home playoff game on Tuesday when the seedings are announced on Sunday.
“Hopefully we get a couple more games out of it,” said Miranda about a possible playoff run.