The 2013 West Yosemite League boys basketball campaign was something akin to a roller-coaster ride designed by a demented architect who has an affinity for unexpected twists, gut-wrenching drops and an never-ending line of vertical loops.
* We had just a half-game separating six of the seven teams near the end of the first rotation of the league schedule.
* There were three teams tied for first place at the halfway point.
* The last-place team (Golden West) knocked off the first-place team (Lemoore) on the road this week to forge a tie at the top of the standings.
And when the two-time defending WYL champion Mt. Whitney Pioneers finally got off this wild and wacky ride, they still had their hands secured on the WYL crown.
The Pioneers claimed a share of their third straight WYL title with a 58-47 win over the Redwood Rangers Friday night at Mt. Whitney High School.
"It's just an amazing feeling," Mt. Whitney senior Garabed Kalanjian said. "After we lost to Lemoore [on Feb. 6]. we didn't let it get us down. We kept our hearts into it. This just feels phenomenal."
Mt. Whitney (16-9) and Lemoore finished tied with 9-3 league records.
Mt. Whitney's ability to hang on to the WYL crown is one of the pleasant surprises of the Central Section season.
The Pioneers' 2011 WYL championship was their first in 16 years, but many were projecting it after Mt. Whitney advanced to the Division III semifinals the season before.
Last year's WYL-title run was a 12-0 march through the league that proved the senior-laden Pioneers' league dominance.
But no one outside Mt. Whitney circles was expecting the Pioneers to hang another WYL banner this season after losing every member of last year's starting lineup.
Still, the Pioneers' penchant for outstanding defense never wavered no matter who was on the floor for them.
No WYL foe scored more than 63 points on Mt. Whitney, and the Pioneers' scoring defense average in 12 league games was an impressive 54.6 points allowed per game.
"[This WYL championship] is way up there," Mt. Whitney coach Bob Aguilar said when asked of the importance of this league title to the Pioneer program. "To lose all the seniors that we had last year, and to come back and win it again is something very special. These kids bought into what we were teaching them, and never gave up. It was a tremendous job by my coaching staff. They did a phenomenal job all season."
Kalanjian had a game-high 16 points to pace Mt. Whitney on Friday. Ethan Moore added 11 points, and Turner Nelson and Colton Dahlenburg each had eight points.
Raul Alvarez and Ricky Ramirez each had 12 points for Redwood (13-13, 5-7).
The Rangers went toe-to-toe with Mt. Whitney for the first 13 minutes of the game.
The two teams exchanged the lead five times during that game-opening stretch, and the score was tied up at 21-all with three minutes left in the first half.
But once Darius Armstead hit a layup at the 2:40 mark of the second quarter to put Mt. Whitney up 23-21, the Pioneers were in the lead for the rest of the game.
Mt. Whitney held a 27-23 halftime lead, and increased that to a 37-25 advantage by the middle of the third quarter.
Kalanjian scored six points during a 16-3 Pioneer run that pushed the lead to 45-28 with less than 90 seconds remaining in the period.
The closest the Rangers got to Mt. Whitney over the final period was seven points, but it was way too late to be considered a significant scare -- Mt. Whitney was up 54-47 with 19.6 seconds left.
Both teams will advance to the Central Section playoffs. Redwood will be in Division II, and Mt. Whitney is in Division III.