Spurred by new coach, YHS hoops team looks to finish season undefeated

Bill Choy
Siskiyou Daily News

The Yreka Miners boys basketball team has not let an unusual season get in a way of having a special campaign on the court.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the season was delayed from November, and was reduced to just nine games and no playoffs.

After going 12-16 last season the Miners have played inspired basketball this season and are 8-0 after a 65-43 home win Saturday against Etna. YHS ends the season Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Anderson High School, a team they downed 73-50 at home on May 8.

YHS has also had an impressive 51-46 victory at larger school Enterprise on May 6. in Redding. the Hornets are considered an upper tier squad in the Northern Section.

“That was a big confidence booster for us,” said first year head coach Cliff Blakely. The Miners also defeated top tier Northern Athletic League squad University Prep at home 58-57 on May 1.3 It was the only league loss for the Panthers this season.

YHS head coach Cliff Blakely is congratulated after the game Saturday versus Etna.

Blakely is a well known longtime basketball coach in Siskiyou County. 

Blakely retired as head coach with the Bears in 2019 after seven years and had an amazing run with the Division 5 program, which included taking them to the CIF D5 State Championship game for the first time since 1929 in his final year as coach.

Cliff said when he retired in June he missed coaching high school basketball and when the opening at Yreka High School came up he applied.

“I have a passion for basketball,”  Blakely said at the time.

After the Etna game on Saturday Blakely said he has had a positive experience coaching the Miners. He said the players have worked hard are dedicated and have put in the work needed to succeed. He added the school and the community of Yreka has also been supportive of him and the team.

While he wishes there was a postseason to see how far the team could go in the Northern Section, he said they are grateful to be able to play this year and to give the six senior members of the Miners a memorable sendoff

Against the Lions, Yreka started off slow as the much improved lions took the lead at times in the first half and only trailed by two at the halftime. Yreka slowly started to chip away in the second half to earn the 18-point victory.

Nick Stensether led Yreka with 24 points, including four 3-pointers. Cobi Walker led Etna with 12 points, three of which were 3-pointers.

Senior RV Hughes said many of the players on the team have played together since middle school and have formed a close bond. To him, having the opportunity to end their high school career undefeated is special and something they are glad to have an opportunity to achieve.

“Our hard work is paying off,” he said. “We have put in a lot of time and effort to get here.”

Hughes said the team is a true team that works well together and understands to be successful they all need to be on the same page. He said they have enjoyed working with Blakely this year, and while he can be tough at times he has pushed them to become better players and people and is grateful for all he has done to help them achieve a successful season this year.

More:Former Mount Shasta coach Cliff Blakely to take over Yreka High boys hoops program

“He has helped us to be confident,” Hughes said. “We’re really in sync ... Most of us have played together since eighth grade and have played with each other for so long, which has helped.”

Fellow senior Andrew Fitzpatrick has not been able to play as much as he would like due to injuries this season. But, he said, for him he loves being a part of this team and truly fells a par of something special. 

He said that he and his teammates know Blakely expects their best effort each practice and game

“We work hard to get better and play well together,” he said. “We are all so focused on what we have to do.”

To be able to do this as seniors is special, he said. Both players emphasized they know the season is not over yet and they must not let up on Wednesday if they want to end the year with a victory.

More:YHS Miners finish with a win: Takeaways from a strange football season

“It feels great,” Blakey said about being undefeated with one game remaining. At the start of the season the squad set up a list of goals and being a perfect 9-0 was one of them. 

“We knew it would be hard to but we are close to pulling it off,” he said.

Blakely admits it did take his players time to adjust to his type of play and the commitment and hand work he expects out of them each and every day. He said once they all bought in things have gone smoothly and is proud to see them achieve at a high level as basketball players while also learning how be better young men.

“They have really pulled together and have played well,” he said. “They understand the impact of working together and looking out for each other.”

Blakely said while the team will be younger this  next year a fair share of underclassman have been on the varsity team this year since their is no junior varsity of freshman teams this season.

He added this has given them great hands-on experience and is looking forward  to seeing what the Miners can achieve next season.