Undefeated GV and Saugus fighting to stay perfect

Golden Valley’s Richard Kawakami (5) goes up for a shot as Trinity’s Tyler Lee (1) tries to block him at Golden Valley. Golden Valley will play Saugus High tonight. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

This is not a total surprise.

After all, no clear-cut favorite emerged before Foothill League boys basketball began last week.

But, still, Saugus and Golden Valley highs — which play tonight at Saugus at 6:30 p.m. — have each started 2-0 in league in rather stunning fashion.

The Centurions’ first two Foothill contests were on the road, against three-time defending Foothill League champion Hart and a veteran West Ranch squad.

The Grizzlies entered their league opener against Canyon amid roster changes and having lost five of six games.

Then they beat the Cowboys by three, and sophomore forward Richard Kawakami went coast to coast for a layup at the buzzer to beat Valencia by one Friday, sending Grizzly fans into giddy celebration.

How fun have the last two games been?

“Lots, lots,” Grizzlies coach Larry Keys said Saturday. “We’re enjoying grinding it out. It’s league — every possession counts. The kids are starting to really buy in and believe.”

Kawakami scored 18 points Friday. He had 21 points against Canyon.

Senior forward Milan Taylor, one of three players who left the bench during a December game and the only one reinstated before league, has been a force on the glass, pulling down double-digit rebounds in both games.

Keys also highlighted the leadership of senior Josh Jehnings in the team’s turnaround and said the start of league created a greater sense of urgency.

Saugus High’s Zach Phipps is averaging 20.5 points per game in league play. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Golden Valley went 6-9 in preleague play. It knows it needs a strong finish to make the postseason.

Greater focus, Keys said, has also come from a return to school and a defined schedule of class, practice and games.

“Teenagers, they do better with structure,” he said.

Structure is a concern for Saugus tonight. Namely that the 6-foot-7 Jehnings, 6-6 Taylor and 6-5 Kawakami may appear as skyscrapers among the Cents, whose tallest players are seniors Micah Tobon and Sean Dawe, both 6-4.

Saugus (12-4) plans to combat the size and physicality with speed, pressure and one of the league’s best scoring duos.

Seniors Zach Phipps and Anthony McIntyre have given teams fits.

McIntyre is averaging 22.5 points per game in league — Phipps, 20.5.

Luke Bodeau has also been key.

In his second year on varsity, the junior has provided ball handling, three-point shooting and consistent rebounding.

He played both games last week with a severe ankle sprain suffered a day before the Hart game and still led the team in rebounding against the Indians and scored 12 points against West Ranch.

Other contributors have been freshman Adrian McIntyre — Anthony’s brother — and Dawe, who both put the ball in the basket at crucial times during league’s first week.

Golden Valley’s Milan Taylor has had rebounds in double digits in both league games this season. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

It’s a mettle that has characterized Saugus through two games, winning by a combined four points.

That wasn’t always the case, though.

“(In the beginning of the year), we had success, but we didn’t close out games well,” Bedgood said.

To fix that, the Cents drilled situations in practice. They brought out a clock and went five-on-five as if they were down eight with two minutes left or up five with under three.

As for why Saugus has been impervious to playing on the road?

“A lot of practice,” Bedgood said.

Tonight will be the team’s first home game of the year. Bedgood planned the schedule that way because he knew to win a Foothill League title his team would have to win on the road.

Last year, the Cents went 0-5 away from home in league, including a 62-37 loss at Canyon in a finale that could’ve vaulted Saugus into the playoffs.

The Cents have bucked the trend. Now, can they win at home?

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