After waiting 16 seasons between West Yosemite League boys basketball championships -- no league titles from 1996-2010 -- the Mt. Whitney Pioneers are on the verge of claiming a mini-dynasty as they moved closer to their third straight WYL crown.
Behind a dominant second-half performance, the Pioneers cruised to a 53-37 win over the El Diamante Miners Tuesday at Mt. Whitney.
The win secured a playoff spot for Mt. Whitney, but the most important item was that its first-place status in the WYL stayed intact.
Mt. Whitney (13-8, 6-2) owns a half-game lead over Lemoore with four games left. Lemoore (12-9, 5-2) could erase the deficit with a win over Redwood on Thursday (the game is at Redwood), as the Pioneers have the rest of this week off.
No matter how the Lemoore-Redwood game turns out, first place will be on the line in some fashion when Mt. Whitney visits Lemoore on Feb. 6.
If the Pioneers earn at least a share of the WYL championship, they are being projected as the No. 3 seed in the Central Section Division III bracket.
What is distinguishable about the Pioneers' play during their current six-game winning streak is that their level of defensive execution is reminiscent of the last two Pioneer WYL champion teams. Mt. Whitney is allowing an average of just 50.8 points per game since Jan. 1. El Diamante scored just 16 second-half points on Tuesday.
Mt. Whitney gained command by outscoring El Diamante 22-5 in the third quarter, turning a 21-20 Miner halftime advantage into a 42-26 Pioneer lead.
The margin never dipped below 16 points in the Pioneers' favor during the fourth quarter. Mt. Whitney's largest lead in the final period was 21 points with the last occurrence at 53-32 with 2:50 left in the game.
Garabed Kalanjian had a game-high 11 points for Mt. Whitney. The Pioneers had three other players with nine points each -- Colton Dahlenburg, Tucker Mendonca and Turner Nelson.
El Diamante (9-10, 3-4) might be a middle-of-the-pack team in a very competitive Central Section Division II playoff bracket, but its playoff bid can now be classified as being in jeopardy.
El Diamante must win three out of its last five games to meet the school district's policy for postseason play (a .500 league or overall record). That translates into the Miners having to beat a fellow WYL team that they lost to during the first rotation of the league schedule. Plus, El Diamante has to visit Redwood, a team the Miners defeated 63-56 at home on Jan. 10.
Blake Edmonson had a team-high eight points for El Diamante.