Corey Costelloe mug

Corey Costelloe

It was around this time last season I wrote about a miraculous finish to the Tehachapi-Bakersfield Christian varsity girl’s basketball game. A win at the time that helped solidify Tehachapi as eventual South Yosemite League co-champions, their first such accomplishment.

A year later the teams met again, and once again there is a story to be told. Not one consisting of improbable finishes against statistical odds, not one that highlights a standout individual performance, but a tale spun in tragedy, weaved in emotion and capitalized with heart and determination.

Last Thursday, the Tehachapi Warriors family was rocked with the news that one of their own had passed tragically and far too soon. It was the second such death in the span of a year and many student athletes knew both individuals. Thursday’s hit very close to home for the Lady Warriors especially, and like many of the teams going into action that Thursday, the game on the schedule all of the sudden mattered very little.

There were discussions among all THS teams about forfeits, many of them too distraught to attempt to take the court or the field, but in the end their heart and determination won out. Tehachapi played. On the varsity girls' basketball side, the Lady Warriors had a very important league game against Bakersfield Christian, one of the teams they split the league title with a season ago. Armed with an all-league center, it was sure to be a tough matchup any normal night of the year, but of course last Thursday was anything but normal.

There were plenty of tears pregame, concerns from coaches and parents about just how into the game their kids would be given the tragic news delivered just hours earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a team warm up for a game while either fighting back or fighting through tears. Prior to the contest, Bakersfield Christian, aware of the news, asked the Lady Warriors to join them at mid court and the two teams said a prayer together, a true sign of compassion, a class act from a program that was living up to their Christian foundation.

Despite the sportsmanship, once the whistle blew, Tehachapi proceeded to beat the brakes off of the Eagles, opening the game on 12-0 run, forcing four turnovers in the process and holding the Eagles without a field goal for the first five minutes of the game. Tehachapi head coach Jimi Perkins called the first quarter “the best quarter I’ve ever seen us play.”

Fueled by emotion, the Lady Warriors managed to turn the hurt from the day into a laser-focus usually reserved for the most finely tuned professional athletes. That’s not to say they completely forgot about what was surrounding them. On a few occasions, Perkins substituted players who were about to let the emotion of the day and the game evolve into a harmful combination, and consoled them. A good coach simply knows his team; words didn’t have the impact that a hug did given this game’s circumstances.

Bakersfield Christian didn’t stand a chance on this night. Instead of folding, Tehachapi played arguably one of their greatest games, dispatching the Eagles easily 81-32, falling just four points shy of the all-time record for points in a Lady Warriors game (85 is what I’m led to believe). The margin of victory was substantial, everybody played and even the starters realized that the basketball court was their escape from reality for the evening. They were reluctant to be substituted out. The court was a different world, one where the pain turned to determination and the results were simply astounding.

After the game, Perkins mentioned how proud he was of his team, I think anybody who understood the entire backstory of that day was proud to be witness to triumph coming out of tragedy. However, the reality of the real loss will remain on this team and their counterparts for the rest of their lives.

Every Tehachapi team, from basketball to soccer, showed up to play that night, with mixed results, but each provided a reminder about today’s youth: They are more resilient than they get credit for, stronger than many think and sometimes an example for us all.

Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at corey.costelloe@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.