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May 13—Heading into Wednesday’s girls basketball game at Independence, it had been 433 days since Bakersfield High had squared off against another team.

That layoff included the past two weeks while the Drillers worked through health and safety protocols after a positive COVID-19 test.

So with just two days of practice under its collective belt, BHS was understandably a bit off its game — particularly offensively — as both teams combined for just one field goal in the first six minutes of action.

Fortunately, Bakersfield’s defense was on point. The Drillers held Independence without a point until 3:45 into the second half and eventually found their rhythm in rolling to a 68-5 victory over the Falcons.

“I’ve always told them you have to be able to get stops,” BHS coach Rashaan Shehee said. “So we always hang our hat on the defensive side of the ball. Sometimes shots are going to fall, sometimes they’re not, but defensively you have to be able to stop them, and that’s where we live.”

The game was scoreless until Bakersfield’s Alexis Killebrew scored inside off a nice dish from Jaiden Key with 5:05 left in the first quarter. Neither team scored again until the Drillers Mikenzy Willis scored inside three minutes later as part of a 10-0 run to close out the quarter. Erica Hayden closed with a steal and layup to make it 12-0.

“I knew it was going to be a little rusty coming out,” Shehee said. “They haven’t played with the COVID issues and they’ve only had a couple of practices. And then after we got going, we started to feel a little more comfortable on the court. I had to yell a little bit, and everything was fine after that.”

The Drillers continued to build its lead in the second quarter and led 36-0 at halftime following a steal and lay in by Radisson Banks.

The lead grew to 45-0 on another basket by Banks, this time off a nice pass from Kyla Wandick before the Falcons (0-3) finally got on the board when Alexis Smith found Kalynn Bolden alone under the basket for a lay-in with 4:15 left in the third quarter.

Wandick led a balanced scoring attack with a team-high 11 points, Sara Shein and Banks had nine each, and Shaelyn Turner and Killebrew finished with eighth.

Independence, playing with a lineup of all underclassmen, was missing several key returners from last year’s team that finished 12-14 and in second place in the South Yosemite League. But with conflicts between other sports and the delay in starting the season, many players opted not to play this season.

“A lot of girls are playing volleyball or stayed playing with their travel teams, one is in track and some seniors decided to work and decided to start their life post (basketball),” said Independence coach Mario Zetina, who is hoping to use this season to gain experience for his young squad. “That’s kind of what it’s about at this point, is to give these kids an opportunity to play, try to get some fundamentals into them and get them some court time.

“It’s kind of a blessing and a curse. I have some kids that wouldn’t normally get to play are getting to play right now and getting experience. So it’s a learning process and we have growing pains. We’re just really young and inexperienced at this point. But they play hard and that’s really all I can ask for.”

Although he returns several key components from last year’s Central Section Division I championship team — the Drillers’ third straight section title, Shehee had similar emotions seeing his team on the floor Wednesday.

“It was fun watching them play, just for the kids,” Shehee said. “I’m excited for them, just to be with each other, and put some smiles on their faces after all the chaos they’ve been dealing with.”

He’s also looking for his team to continue to improve and to help them accomplish their goals, and Shehee plans to continue that learning process later Wednesday night.

“We just want to continue to get better every single day,” Shehee said with a smile. “Whatever they showed, I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to go back home and break the video down. I’ll be sending them clips tonight of things they could have done better and we continue to try to improve from here.”

Girls basketball

Bakersfield 68, Independence 5

BHS (1-0): Key 4, Wandick 11, Shein 9, Banks 9, Curry 4, Willis 2, Scott 5, Turner 8, Sanders 6, Killebrew 8, Hayden 2.

IHS (0-3): McQueen 3, Bolden 2.