BASKETBALL: Reedley girls ousted in NorCal regional first round


Powerful Santa Cruz breaks away in dominating second quarter, D-5 section champ Pirates finish season at 15-17

Photo by Danny Jimenez / Contributor
Reedley High’s Raquel Cortez takes on Santa Cruz defender Claire Thompson with the dribble in the Northern California Division V regional basketball first round playoff on Feb. 28. Cortez led the Pirates with eight points in the 75-33 loss to the Cardinals.
Photo by Danny Jimenez / Contributor
Reedley High’s Ana Drolette is tied up by two Santa Cruz players including Linneah Keence (1) during the Pirates’ 75-33 loss to the Cardinals in the first round of the Northern California Division V regional basketball playoffs on Feb. 28. Central Section champion Reedley finished the season at 15-17.
Photo by Danny Jimenez / Contributor
Reedley High’s Serena Esparza—the team’s lone senior—drives to the basket to shoot while Santa Cruz defender Kina Espinosa (21) trails the play during the Pirates’ 75-33 loss to the Cardinals in the first round of the Northern California Division V regional basketball playoffs on Feb. 28.

SANTA CRUZ CALIF. – Reedley High’s Division V regional girls basketball run ended after just one game, as the Central Section champions ran into a buzzsaw in the form of the Santa Cruz High Cardinals on Feb. 28.
Trailing by just a basket after the first quarter, the Pirates were overwhelmed in a 26-1 second quarter eruption on the way to a 75-33 loss that ended their season at 15-17. But before the rough finish, Reedley rolled through four straight section opponents; capped by a hard-fought finals win over Arvin High on Feb. 25.
Head coach Mike Pallesi, who captured his third section title as a coach (the first two were coaching the Selma High boys program), said he believe the young squad (just one senior) was better than the early-season tournament struggles had demonstrated.
“I knew we were better than our record and what people were giving us credit for,” he said. “We just had to figure out how to win, and we were losing a lot of close games early on.”
Reedley put it all together in the section D-V playoffs, rallying for an opening win at Mendota and then dominating higher seeds Fresno Christian and Fowler before battling past Arvin. The momentum carried into the early moments of the regional playoff against Santa Cruz (23-8).
Junior Raquel Cortez, who led the team in scoring the previous two victories, drained a pair of 3-point baskets and Niana Holman added another three to bring the Pirates to within 18-16 after eight minutes. But the Cardinals then combined a powerful defensive performance with pinpoint shooting to outscore the Pirates by 40 points over the final three periods.
Claire Thompson (25 points) scored 14 points in the dominating second quarter, while Tiera O’Connor had 11 of her 20 points in the third including a trio of 3-pointers. Santa Cruz finished the night with 30 field goals, including six 3-pointers.
Cortez finished with a team-high 8 points for Reedley, and Katelyn Medina scored five of her six points in the opening quarter. Holman, Emily Pallesi and Leila Perez all had 3-point baskets, with six different players scoring three points.
“We’re always trying to work on the mental part of [the game],” Coach Pallesi said. “Early on in the year I tried to challenge them and push them and kind of make them think. Then, in the second part of the season try to build them up.”
Pallesi praised his team’s grit and consistent work ethic.
“They were resilient. No matter what we did they always battled back and kept fighting,” he said. “Some teams, when you lose six or seven close games, you kind of pack it in. The girls never did. They kept fighting and kept believing and kept working.”
The coach said the offseason focus will be on conditioning and competition.
“We’re going to get stronger, and we’re going to play tougher teams and we’re going to travel up the down the state of California,” he said. “We’re going to be battle tested in the spring and summer, and we’ll come out and be ready to play in December.”