Skip Pendergast, girls’ basketball coach at Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia, had good reason to be worried entering Tuesday night’s Southern California Regional Division II playoff game.
The Pioneers had to travel 4 hours to play their first-round game at Valencia. And to make matters worse, Pendergast learned that Mt. Whitney’s top player, guard Elaine Harrell, was suffering from an ankle injury.
The result seemed predictable. Valencia recorded a 65-50 victory as center Kristen McDonald scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“I didn’t feel like this was one of our better games,” Valencia Coach Debi Woelke said. “We didn’t move real well in the beginning, but I felt we improved our performance as the game wore on.”
Valencia, the 4-AA Southern Section champion, improved its record to 21-9 and will play at Vista in a second-round game on Thursday. Mt. Whitney ended its season 23-3.
“This was just too far of a trip for us to come all this way and look sharp,” Pendergast said.
“Valencia is a good ballclub, but not having Harrell at full strength really hurt us on the offensive end.”
Harrell, who was the West Yosemite League’s most valuable player, scored 14 points, but the ankle injury limited her overall effectiveness.
Valencia held a 22-16 halftime lead on the strength of McDonald’s play on the inside. McDonald scored 12 of her points in the first half.
The Tigers also received some excellent play from senior forward Stephanie Bice, who had 12 points, and junior forward Candy Anderson, who added nine points mostly on baseline jumpers.
Mt. Whitney never led and looked tired and sluggish as the game wore on. The Tigers went on a 22-8 run midway in the third quarter that effectively sealed the outcome.
Senior center Debbie Welty led Mt. Whitney with 16 points and seven rebounds.