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June 24, 2022

So far, so good for San Benito High girls basketball team

Basketball championships have been hard to come by for San Benito High. The boys team hasn’t captured a league title since the 2012-2013 season, while the last time the girls squad won a championship was in the 2008-2009 season. 

The San Benito girls hope this is the year in which they put an end to the title-less streak. They entered the week 6-1, including a riveting 65-61 overtime win over longtime nemesis North Salinas in a Dec. 4 tournament game, their first victory over the league’s premier team since 2013. The Haybalers will play the Vikings two more times in Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division action. 

“Obviously, beating North Salinas gives us some hope that if we can do that again, we have a chance to do well in the league,” said Mitch Burley, who is in his 10th season as the San Benito coach. “One of my goals every year is to finish in the top three in the league because you’re an automatic qualifier for CCS (playoffs), and we’ve done a pretty good job of that. But we’ve never been able to be the top one.”

The Balers defeated Sequoia High 38-33 in the championship game of the Warren Johnson Memorial Tournament at Santa Clara High on Dec. 11. Junior Jocelyn Alexander made the all tournament team and possesses a versatile skill set that allows Burley to utilize her at point guard or the post. 

Alexander also excels as an inbound passer and is one of the players who can be effective in helping to break a high-pressure team such as North Salinas. She also possesses some nice up and under moves that allows her to score from close range. Guard Bailey Cotter returns after a standout freshman spring season. 

She scored 34 points in the win over North Salinas, a testament to her ability to connect on shots whether it’s off dribble penetration, perimeter jumpers or drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. Cotter did all of her work inside the 3-point line, hitting 15 field goals and four free throws en route to her first 30-plus point game at the varsity level. Cotter had a couple of 20-plus point games in the spring season that put other teams on notice. 

“Bailey has always been a real player,” Burley said. 

Cotter will play a key role in the two division games against North Salinas because of her ability to facilitate and help break the Vikings’ full-court pressure. 

“If she can get in the middle she tends to make the right decisions, then we can get a lot of inside looks and score,” Burley said. 

A pair of seniors, Gia Felice and Mia Villegas, return after missing the Covid spring season to compete in track and field. Solid players as sophomores, Felice and Villegas have further developed their games, both physically and mentally. 

“They’ve shown themselves to be able to handle the pressure,” Burley said. “Gia is our defensive stopper and Mia is long, can shoot threes, rebounds well, has length and is a crafty player.”

Junior point guard Emmia Rivera has been stellar with her ability to handle the ball, knock down 3-point shots and be pinpoint accurate with her free throws. She also breaks down defenses off the dribble and finds open teammates for layups. 

“Emmia is real smart and fun to watch,” Burley said. “She’s a dynamic little player.”

The first player off the bench, Genesis Moreta, was on the junior varsity team two years ago and played on the field hockey team last spring. At 5-foot-8, Moreta is one of the team’s tallest players and when Burley needs the team to be strong on the boards, he’ll insert Moreta into the game. 

“Against North Salinas we needed more rebounding and I put her in with two minutes to go and she got three rebounds so that worked out perfect,” Burley said. “She’s a really strong post player.”

Burley has been a civil engineer at BKF Engineers for 32 years, and while he loves his job, coaching basketball gives him a level of joy that engineering can’t rival. 

“I enjoy coaching, the girls are great and it’s a great opportunity to help them play basketball,” he said. “I try to teach them to have fun and to play the right way. Being on the court is the most fun I have all day.”

Standout Bailey Cotter can score points in a hurry and looks to have another strong season. Photo by Robert Eliason.
The San Benito High girls basketball team is having plenty of fun this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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