Hart's Carson Weiss (20) steals a pass from Village Christian defender Caden Starr (30) at Hart on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The most telling sign that Hart boys basketball was in trouble Wednesday, so far behind Village Christian that a comeback was all but impossible, wasn’t the missed shots, the turnovers or even the scoreboard.

It was Hart’s student section. “The Tribe,” though densely packed, sat down in the fourth quarter, standing only when a skirmish broke out with five minutes to play.

The Indians kept it close early but couldn’t solve Village’s zone defense and fell behind by 20 in the final frame of a 73-49 home loss to the Crusaders, ending a Foothill League title season in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.

Hart’s Ben Kaufman (35) shoots a 3-pointer against Village Christian at Hart on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

It’s the first time Hart hasn’t made at least a quarterfinal since 2013.

“They came out and punched us in the mouth to start,” said senior Ben Kaufman, who scored 16 points, “and we never really came back.”

Whitten Dominguez added 16 points before an early exit.

The scuffle started with Kaufman and Village’s Jordan Starr battling for a loose ball midway through the fourth quarter and ended with coaches and game officials having to separate multiple players.

Village’s Jalen Riley received a technical. Dominguez, the referees said, threw a punch and was disqualified.

The game was over by then, anyway. Hart trailed by 20.

Starr, the son of The Master’s University men’s basketball coach Kelvin Starr, finished with a game-high 23 points.

Hart’s Tre Harrill (22) shoots against Elijiah Scranton (33) at Hart on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Riley, a former West Ranch player, followed with 14.

The Indians (18-9) trailed by three after the first quarter, but the Crusaders built a seven-point lead at half and extended it to 15 heading to the fourth.

Village (16-11) beat Hart by 71-62 on Jan. 3, but 7-footer Majur Majak and another standout player left the Crusaders after that game.

Hart, on the other hand, got Kaufman back from injury later in January and transfers Luca Robinson and Tre Harrill, whose first game action came against Village, meshed into the offense over time.

Hart coach Tom Kelly expected a different rematch. He didn’t get it.

“We were way more confident,” he said. “We thought we were going to be much better. And we weren’t.”

Hart turned the ball over 14 times to Village’s seven.

Kaufman drove and scored twice in the first quarter against man-to-man defense. Then Village went zone.

“When they went to the zone, they came out so intense,” Kaufman said. “… and we just weren’t playing our game.”

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Mason Nesbitt
Mason Nesbitt is The Santa Clarita Valley Signal's Sports Editor.
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