Through the trials and tribulations of the winter sports season, McFarland Varsity Boys Basketball were able to truly represent their city at a high level. After having a shaky regular season regarding management and a loss of players, the boys showed who they really were.
From February 3 to February 9, the boys had what was considered a last dance in the regular season. At this time, the Cougars defeated Kennedy, Delano, and Arvin. Beating two teams that the boys shared a league with was a huge sign of improvement and growth. Going into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak was a necessary boost of confidence for this team, as they would see Golden West in the first round.
Golden West had previously beaten them during a tournament in December, but the stakes were much higher this time. McFarland was given home-court advantage as the 7th seed, compared to Golden West’s 10th seed. The Cougars and Trailblazers went back and forth all game long, not getting too far from each other’s lead. With four seconds left in the game, McFarland’s Christopher Samaniego was able to put the city on his back and hit a corner three to put his team up 71-69.
The eruptions from the crowd felt like a volcano, but the referees set three seconds back on the clock. Golden West had to get the ball down the court in three seconds and score. McFarland’s Joey Miranda got a game-sealing steal and sent the Cougars to the next round.
“I was sitting in the corner counting down the time, waiting to see if I could get a shot. It came to me, I shot it, and it just got silent. When it went in, I couldn’t stop smiling because we were advancing,” stated Samaniego after his game-winner.
The boys were set for a road trip to Granite Hills, as the 7th seed would most likely struggle to get home-court advantage.
Senior player Isaac Herrera stated, “Fortunately, Coach Doom, Landon, and Munoz were able to step up for not just for Coach Dwight, but us individually. During practice before Granite Hills, Coach Landon wrote something called 70. The 70 stood for the amount of years since the team has been this far. That made our team click, so we played our hearts out.”
The Cougars did play their hearts out, getting themselves a 55-52 win.
“We didn’t want to go home. We wanted revenge so that’s what we did. Everyone played their role, shooters were shooting, rebounders were rebounding and our defense stepped up. We played as a team and that’s what got us the win,” said Deven McCullough on beating Granite Hill’s Grizzlies.
The small town of McFarland had packed the stands just as much as the home team had, and were more than ready for the next round. The road trip had extended from an hour’s drive to Granite Hills to two hours for Mendota. The city of McFarland had started to come together to cheer on the boys. The McFarland cheerleaders arranged gift bags, and local elementary schools had written good luck letters to each player. Rooter buses were even set up so McFarland students could attend.
The stage was set in Mendota, a third-round game against McFarland. A town with a large amount of support definitely assisted the boys in a dominant win. The cougars were able to take the lead during the second quarter and never give it back to the Aztecs. The Aztecs fell, and the Cougars were onto the CIF Central Section D5 Valley Championship.
Spirits in the city of McFarland were indescribable, and the players were locked in. Bakersfield College was able to offer its facility as a place for the cougars to practice and get used to the arena-like feeling. The boys were set to play at Selland Arena versus Madera South’s Stallions.
After introducing both teams’ starting five and full squad, the whistle was sounded. McFarland was off to a quick start with a contested layup from Miguel Zepeda, and back-to-back threes from Christopher Samaniego. Madera South’s Michael Rivera responded with a bucket, as he would be a real problem to the Cougars all game.
McFarland kept the lead going into halftime, but Madera South had gone on a run toward the end. Madera South unfortunately had the momentum and ran with it into the fourth quarter. With two minutes left in the game, McFarland disrupted the Stallion’s rhythm. The boys went from down fourteen to just five within a minute. There was hope not only for the team but the teeth-chattering parents and students watching.
The teeth-chattering went to sadness quickly, as Stallions were able to get the ball off and score again. The boys had lost the game, but the city of McFarland had won, as they rewrote history and put on a show for California.
The boys were able to go half-court to receive the CIF Central Section D5 Valley Runner-up plaque and get applause from the crowd. The senior heavy team will have losses of Deven McCullough, Juan Rodriguez, Julian Hernandez, Valente Salais, James Diaz, Christopher Samaniego, Sammy Flores, Miguel Zepeda, and Isaac Herrera.
Herrera was able to pass the crown onto his younger brother Christopher during player introductions, and continue his legacy. Juniors Andrew Pinzon, Joey Miranda, Jesus Martinez, and Christopher Herrera will have the chip on their shoulders to get back to the valley and win it all with guidance from coaches and future players.
A small town with a big heart was able to not only dominate but have some fun in a memorable journey.