Corey Costelloe mug

Corey Costelloe

The mark of any good team is playing well throughout the season. The mark of a great team is playing their best near the end of the year.

For both Tehachapi varsity basketball teams, the end of the regular season is proving to be an opportunity to achieve greatness. Both the boys and girls varsity squads are wrapping up historic seasons in the South Yosemite League and will look forward to the CIF Central Section playoffs, which will begin next week. While no season goes perfectly, it’s the ability to be much better than you were in November that sets the great teams apart.

The extra pass, the court-presence, the strong ball-handling, defensive pride and superior execution of the offense are skills that develop during the course of a basketball season. Putting them all together when the calendar turns to the last month of the season separates a playoff team from a playoff contender. It marks the difference between those that will just show up in the bracket, and those that will make some noise.

I’ve heard it preached by coaches for years: while players and fans sometimes fret over pre and regular-season losses, it’s the coaches who continually shift focus back to their overall plan, to continue to improve with each practice and each game with the intent of all the pieces coming together when it’s time to play for something that matters. For Tehachapi basketball in 2019, it looks like that improvement has coincided with the timing and the opportunities are legitimate.

The boy’s team recently lost three-straight games after losing to West on Jan. 18. In that game Tehachapi looked as good as they had all season but couldn’t hold their fourth-quarter lead. Despite the setback, the Warriors rallied last week, winning a pair of league games including by far their best all-around effort of the season in their win over Ridgeview. They swept the Wolf Pack for the first time since the South Sequoia League days and are positioned for third place in the incredibly-tough SYL with a win at West this week. They’re playing their best just as the postseason arrives.

The girl’s team has won seven straight games as they sit alone atop the SYL standings at 7-2. By the way, those two losses in league play came in their first two league contests, the second time around they avenged those defeats while positioning themselves for their first-ever SYL championship. How easy it could have been to call it quits at that point trailing by a pair of games in the standings, but of course that didn’t happen.

They had a few other bumps this season like swarms of turnovers to overcome and a couple of nights that the ball simply didn’t fall. But now they stand at the edge of history thanks to solid defense, a focus on ball security and a belief that they are a contender, even as one of the smallest schools in the Division II playoff picture.

When this season started, both head coaches undoubtedly had February circled, not to mark the end of the journey, but to mark the beginning of something new and special. What this month lacks in days, it makes up for with an abundance of opportunities for the teams that want to be great.

Here’s to the Warriors making their mark in February.

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.