Senior night inspires emotional first win of season

 

The SF State Gators celebrate after winning their last home game of the season against the Chico State Wildcats on Feb. 21, 2015. (Sara Gobets / Xpress)

The SF State Gators celebrate after winning their last home game of the season against the Chico State Wildcats on Feb. 21, 2015. (Sara Gobets / Xpress)

As the chances of a Chico State Wildcats comeback slimmed during the final minutes of Saturday’s game, a marked change swept over The Swamp gymnasium.

Frantic expressions on the faces of furiously defending SF State players faded into cautious optimism and then melted away altogether into uninhibited elation. The home crowd seemed to fear the consequences of sitting down and fans were visibly slow to accept that this game would end differently than any of the season’s previous 23 contests.

On a night that would be the last home appearance of the team’s four seniors, SF State players and fans were finally glad to watch the game clock as time expired, finally breaking the spell of a winless season.

Kristian Juarez, Leti Galaraza, Michelle Sutton and Liz Wyrsch collectively expressed the significance of a win in their final game at The Swamp.

“We wanted to get at least one win at home,” said Sutton, SF State’s senior guard and forward. “The fact that it was on our senior night made it that much better.”

The Gators secured an early lead and never regressed, leaving no doubt that the Wildcats were outmatched by an SF State team that fought fervently for its first win. Chico State tried desperately to keep time on the clock as the game neared its final moments, fouling the Gators five times in the last three minutes. SF State responded by shooting a perfect 10-10 from the line, punishing the Wildcats for testing their focus.

SF State Gators player Michelle Walker (#32) wins a loose ball and gets a pass off against the Chico State Wildcats during their game on Feb. 21, 2015. (Sara Gobets / Xpress)

SF State Gators player Michelle Walker (#32) wins a loose ball and gets a pass off against the Chico State Wildcats during their game on Feb. 21, 2015. (Sara Gobets / Xpress)

“I wanted to cry,” said Galaraza of the game’s final stretch. “That buzzer going off was the highlight of the night.”

Coach Dennis Cox had to glance upward and away from the camera in the midst of his poignant post-game interview, blinking back tears before collecting himself emotionally and recalling the moments leading up to the victory.

“I have never wanted anything more for a group of people,” said SF State women’s basketball head coach Cox. “This is all about them, but as I told them in the locker room, I’ve been a part of a lot of big wins. None of them have felt any better than this.”

Sutton, Galaraza and junior Jasmine Flanagan combined for 42 of the team’s 61 points, with 24 of those coming from beyond the three-point arc where the three collectively sunk 40 percent of their shots.

“We played with a lot of intensity,” Sutton said. “I think that was missing from some of our other games, and it made a difference tonight. We just played a lot harder than them.”

The Gators’ seniors were quick to show appreciation for their teammates and coaches.

“I love my squad,” Wyrsch said. “The coaches have always believed in us. If it had to end, I’m glad it happened like this.”

The team will look to carry the momentum of its first win into an upcoming road trip to Los Angeles, where the Gators will close out the season against Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Dominguez Hills.

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