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Yuba City strikes first on River Valley in league, 46-34

Jan. 22—The Yuba City High girls basketball team weathered many setbacks Friday at home against its rival River Valley, including a four-minute scoring drought in the third quarter, to rally and take down the Falcons in round one of Capital Valley Conference action, 46-34.

Yuba City (9-13, 3-3 CVC) hosts a Sac-Joaquin Section top-25 opponent Thursday when No. 24 Woodcreek comes to town. River Valley (9-13, 2-4 CVC), meanwhile, welcomes in Inderkum — ranked No. 8 in the latest section D-I poll — today.

For the Honkers, striking first in league on its rival, centered around turning up the heat defensively.

"Our big focus at halftime was staying in our press to put pressure on their ballhandlers," Yuba City head coach Michelle Brazil said.

After relinquishing 10 straight points to open the third quarter, Yuba City blew a 22-15 lead at the break. During the run, Gurleen Nijjar and Avneeth Gill hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Falcons to help the visitors pull ahead 25-22 at the 4-minute mark of the quarter. Gill led the way with 11 for River Valley, while Nijjar provided nine points on a trio of 3s

Yuba City answered with a 7-2 run of its own to end the third, and then hit River Valley on a 6-0 scoring sequence to open the fourth to jump in front 35-27 at the 6:37 mark of regulation.

Juliana Vazquez and freshman Lali Cortez each delivered 10 points to lead the way for Yuba City, while senior Kirpa Bains added five in the fourth, including a 3 from the top of the key to help the Honkers pull ahead 40-31 with just over 2 minutes left.

Brazil knows the strength of the CVC and so to get this one over River Valley in round one gives the team some confidence heading into the round two gauntlet starting Thursday.

"It's a very tough league, especially with the Sacramento teams that we play," Brazil said. "The good part is we have taken something from each game — some of those Sacramento losses have been tough and hard on their girls, but they are tenacious and keep coming back. I think when we are playing teams we are more evenly matched, that's when we can see our skillset really start coming out."

Brazil said River Valley always "gets their juices flowing."

"It gets them excited. They look forward to these two games," Brazil said. "They really get the most energy out of playing these games."

For River Valley head coach Thomas Zaragoza, who entered his second stint as head coach of the Falcons this year, it's about battling through his own setbacks, including a seven-person varsity roster, as River Valley tries to get into the CVC top-3 to qualify for playoffs for the first time since 2020.

"It's the right seven players. They get a little fatigued but they are in really good shape," Zaragoza said. "We got a great group, the problem is that a lot of them don't have varsity experience."

In order to make his team more comfortable, Zaragoza sets specific goals each time it hits the floor.

"We set three specific goals: How many points we want to hold them to, how many turnovers and then our free-throw percentage that will keep us in games," Zaragoza said. "With those goals we try to make little steps each game."

Under Zaragoza the first time, River Valley had one of its most successful seasons in recent memory when in 2017-2018 it finished 24-9 and made the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final. During that time, Zaragoza and River Valley had a streak of 22 straight wins over Yuba City spanning 10 years. Then the streak flipped to Yuba City winning four straight dating back to January 2022. Currently, River Valley had won the last two in the rivalry before Friday's loss.

The teams will meet again on the final day of the regular season Feb. 8 at River Valley High School.

"We put a little extra pressure on us because it is a crosstown rival and you don't want to lose that game," Zaragoza said. "The kids build it up and the crowd is bigger, so it's nice."