The cream has risen to the top and the stage is now set for the Lady Bruins as they face their biggest hurdle of the season in the Sac-Joaquin D-IV girls basketball semifinals.
The highly anticipated battle between No. 1 seed Bear River (23-3) and defending section champ and No. 4 seed Bradshaw Christian (18-6) tips off today at 4 at Tokay High School in Lodi.
“They’re excited and looking forward to the opportunity to play,” said Bear River head coach Jeff Bickmore, describing the mindset of his team. “They’re doing the best they can to prepare. I hope they’ll play well so they’ll be happy with how they did.”
Last season Bear River faced off against Bradshaw Christian in the D-IV championship game and took a 34-30 lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t slam the door shut as it came away on the short end in a 50-40 loss. This season both teams feature the same elite caliber athleticism and competitive swagger, but the Lady Bruins have the advantage when it comes to seniority and experience with their six seniors. The Lady Pride have none.
“I don’t look at it like that,” added Bickmore. “Being seniors I just want them to go for it and do something to be proud of. (Bradshaw Christian) is going to press and play up tempo and try to get turnovers and turn them into layups. If we don’t turn it over and get the ball down court and have good shots we’ll have a good opportunity, but easier said than done.”
Bradshaw Christian enters the semis riding a seven-game win streak with its most recent coming against No. 5 seed Riverbank, 62-52. For the season, the Lady Pride are averaging 57.5 points per game while allowing just 32.2. The team also shoots well from the field at 44 percent and is anchored by a pair athletic juniors, 6-foot forward Jordyn Bell and 5-foot 7-inch guard Erika Bean.
“They’re really good and really athletic,” said Bear River head coach Jeff Bickmore. “Both of those girls started for them last year. They were tough last year and they’ll be tough again this year.”
Bell leads the team averaging 18.7 points game while shooting 55 percent from the floor. She also leads the squad with 9.6 rebounds per game. Bell is followed by Bean, who drops in an average of 17.8 points per game and leads the Lady Pride in assists with 8.3 per game.
“Just being able to defend their players and their point guard is going to be key,” explained Bickmore. “(Bean) creates offense for everyone. If we play good defense it puts us in a position where we’ll definitely have a good chance.”
The only common opponent Bear River and Bradshaw Christian have squared off against is San Juan, which the Lady Bruins walloped last week in the second round of the playoffs, 52-35. However, the Lady Pride also made easy work of the Lady Spartans in each of their league meetings, 61-20 and 67-37.
“You look at everyone that’s left, Colfax, West Campus, Bradshaw — they can all win if they play well,” Bickmore said. “It’s a matter of playing the team in front of you and trying to advance. There’s lots of parity in the final four.”
Bear River is no slouch when it comes to its statistics either. The Lady Bruins (23-3) played a couple more games this season than Bradshaw Christian and averaged 53.5 points per contest while allowing an identical 32.2. Stingy defense is going to set the tempo for both squads as they try to match up with one another and slow down each other’s top scorers. Whichever club makes fewer mistakes certainly has an edge. Bear River also comes into the game ranked 109th in the state by MaxPreps while Bradshaw Christian is 196th.
“Our (Pioneer Valley League) is definitely a lot tougher,” said Bickmore, comparing the PVL to the Sierra Delta League. “(Bradshaw Christian) maybe played a tougher preseason than us. Being the No. 1 seed gave us a nice path to getting here, but as far as being the best team we’ll find out when we play.”
Lady Bruin senior leading scorers Kaitlyn Reina (15 points per game) and Teryn Rath (8.9 points per game) will be key to the Lady Bruins success, but others will likely need to step up their game and knock down clutch shots as well. The most significant upside for Bear River when stacked side by side to the Lady Pride is rebounding. The Lady Bruins pull down an average of 36 per game, which is seven better than that of last year’s reigning champ. In a game of this magnitude every board is another possession and could add up for a trip to the title game.
Brian Shepard is a freelance sports writer who contributes to The Union regularly.