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Imperial Tigers’ Rich Ponchione wins 400th career game, aims for 20th win on the year and IVL title with trip to Holtville

Lady Tigers head coach leads the team late into the season with another state title run in reach

IMPERIAL, Calif., (KYMA, KECY) - In a meeting with Central last week, the Imperial Tigers girls basketball squad had an Imperial Valley League title on their mind with the regular season winding down.

But at the end of the night, it was a celebration of their league leading 19th win of the season and for Rich Ponchione, who earned his 400th career win as head coach.

"It didn't happen overnight," said Ponchione. "A lot of people think Imperial basketball has been good forever, and that's not true. When I first got here we struggled. We couldn't win a league game. Holtville had our number. Calipatria had our number. We couldn't beat Palo Verde."

But after just a few seasons of keeping the process simple and creating a fun atmosphere, Ponchione was able to pull in more athletes and give off better attitudes, leading to two decades of success.

"It just took off," added Ponchione. "If it's not broken, why fix it?"

And despite recent success over the Holtville Vikings, it has become one of the league's rivalries and one of the Tigers' toughest test.

Now the Tigers make the trip to rival Holtville Tuesday night after winning earlier in the season at home. A win would secure their ninth straight 20-win season, excluding the shortened 2020-21 season due to Covid.

"You could arguably say it's the most important game of the season. It's like the championship game," Ponchione said. "It's a great rivalry. Murray Anderson has done a great job over the last 10 years. It's definitely a rivalry, we're having fun. The girls get up for this game. But we're going in there looking to win."

The Tigers currently hold the top spot in the Imperial Valley League, and with a win, would grab the outright IVL title once again. It also could help jump start them into the postseason, where they look for another deep run.

"The girls are confident," said Ponchione. "They're tough. They're competitors. Obviously the goal was league championship, but we have set our sights on Division One... We believe we can win it all this year."

The Imperial/Holtville game is set to tip off from Holtville Tuesday night at 7 pm.

Article Topic Follows: High School Sports

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Cole Johnson

Cole Johnson is News 11’s Sports Director.

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