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By Rod Thornburg / Special toThe Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
SHAFTER -- Shafter girls basketball coach Kevin Edgmon wanted two things after his team's 55-53 survival at home against hard-charging Chavez on Friday: the scorebook and a towel.
"It's just a relief we got a W," Edgmon said, wiping his brow after his team nearly surrendered a 17-point second-half lead. "I put (Chavez) as the favorite in our league before the season, and we're still a team trying to find ourselves."
Those roles seemed reversed in the first half, when Chavez turned the ball over on 13 of its first 17 possessions and 21 times before halftime. It was an ugly start to a game between two teams that came in 3-0 in South Sequoia League play.
Shafter (9-5, 4-0 SSL) used a 10-0 run early in the second quarter to take control and then took its largest lead, 30-13, when Carli Preston hit a 3-pointer shortly after halftime.
"We just had a horrible first half," Chavez coach Kenneth Gregory said. "We had a such a bad start, and not to take anything away from Shafter, because they're a very good, very well-coached team, but we had a lot of jitters."
But the Titans (12-3, 3-1) scored the next seven points to stay within striking distance and then dominated the fourth quarter, out-scoring Shafter 19-7 in one stretch that ended with Jordynn Jimenez's 3-pointer to cut the lead to 54-53 with 40 seconds left.
"We kind of let up," said Shafter senior Hannah Ramirez, who scored 16 points to lead the Generals. "It's very relieving to be 4-0."
After Jimenez's 3, Tasha Neri hit one of two free throws to stretch the Generals' lead to 55-53. Chavez turned the ball over, but Shafter turned it back with 5 seconds left, giving the Titans one final chance. Jimenez drove in from the right wing and tried a bank shot, but it wouldn't fall, and the clock expired.
"What a good game," Gregory said. "I challenged the girls at halftime, and I thought we bounced back. We slowly tried to chip away."
Megan Gregory, Kenneth's daughter, had to sit the entire second quarter -- and Shafter's coinciding run -- with foul trouble. She returned and scored all 20 of her points in the second half. Marissa Figueroa had 16 for the Titans, who will play Shafter at home Feb. 8.
"We can't wait to play that game at home," Kenneth Gregory said. "This was a big game. On paper, we seem like the same team. We both have a lot of seniors to lead us. This kind of game is why I coach."
But this time, the last laugh went to the Generals -- barely.
"It's a good stepping stone for us, and if we want to be a team that plays deep into February and into March, we need to win games like this," Edgmon said. "Was it pretty? No, it wasn't. But the kids showed a lot of heart."
Chavez 57, Shafter 44
Hector Silva scored 21 points and the Titans made five 3-pointers to hand the Generals their first South Sequoia League loss.
Chavez (9-5, 3-1 SSL) opened the game on a 10-2 run, fell behind 11-10 and then re-asserted control with a 10-4 run to end the half and a 9-0 spurt early in the third quarter. The Titans led by as many as 18.
Cyrus Parsons scored 15 points to lead Shafter (9-12, 3-1).
The result, combined with Kennedy's victory at Taft, creates a three-way tie atop the SSL at 3-1. Taft and Bakersfield Christian are both 2-2.