Good golly, Miss Molly: the Monache Marauders are champions of the local girls’ basketball world.
Junior center Molly Ortega scored 14 points in the final 5 minutes of the game to lift the Marauders to a 70-58 victory over visiting Porterville on Saturday.
Ortega and the Marauders walked onto the court tied for the East Yosemite League lead with Porterville, winners of the past two league titles. By day’s end, they were taking scissors to the net as East Yosemite League champions for the first time since 2014.
“We did it as a team,” said Ortega, who finished with a game-high 20 points. “It was amazing. Everyone did so great. You should interview the seniors – they made it happen.”
They all made it happen.
There was senior point guard Kelci Seaman, driving her diminutive frame to the rim time and again for 12 points. There was senior shooting guard Danielle Garcia, sinking three 3-pointers in third quarter for 18 points. And, senior forward Sara Alvarez, grabbing 10-plus rebounds and scoring 12 points.
And then, there was Ortega, breaking the Panthers once Monache finally figured out how to break the press.
Go to the start of the fourth quarter. Monache was leading 51-37 at the start of the quarter, and it looked like Porterville would not be able to replicate Friday’s 57-53 victory to force a tie atop the EYL standings.
The Panthers weren’t giving up, not that easily. They went full-court press out of the break, and held Monache scoreless for the first 3 ½ minutes of the quarter. Three times, junior guard Gracie Magana stole the ball and turned it in for a layup.
When junior guard Nseije Ortiz rolled her own steal for a layup, Monache’s lead was down to 6 points.
That’s when Monache found a way to pass over the top of the press, down to the basket, where Ortega – the tallest player on the court by a head and shoulder – ended the uprising.
The Marauders’ next 10 points were all her, putbacks or layups every time. The passes came from everywhere – Alisha Verdejo from the left wing, Garcia from the right. Porterville could not match her height or keep the ball out of her hands.
“We just looked for Molly,” Alvarez said. “She was able to break it. She was wide open and knew exactly what to do: go up and let them fly by. It was all her: she’s the one who put it in.
“I cried running off the court, thinking this is it for us – but we still have the playoffs.”
That they do, as league champions for the first time since the program peeled off five straight titles. Next up: the Division 2 bracket of the Central Section championships.
“They were ready for this game,” said Monache coach Junell Garcia said. “They all wanted this. At timeouts, we would just take deep breaths, calm down relax and trust each other. In years past, we’ve been psyched out. This time, they stayed in their flow and were able to overcome.”
Porterville (8-3, 6-2) 14 13 10 21 – 58
Monache (7-3, 7-1) 13 21 17 19 – 70
Porterville: Gracie Magana 18, Nseije Ortiz 14, Angelina Avila 3, Bailee Cook 6, Mariah Castanon 6, Krizlynn Balboa 1, Cienna Enriquez 10.
Monache: Kelci Seaman 12, Danielle Garcia 18, Alisha Verdejo 6, Veronica Herrera 2, Sara Alvarez 12, Molly Ortega 20.