Golden Valley was battling for a second straight postseason berth.
West Ranch was fighting for third place in the Foothill League and an automatic entry into the CIF Southern Section Division 1A boys basketball playoffs.
With heightened stakes for both teams and the Wildcats playing with extra motivation on their Senior Night, emotions finally reached a boiling point Friday with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter of West Ranch’s 87-62 victory.
Following a confrontation near midcourt involving West Ranch’s Suren Aghazadian and Golden Valley’s Richard Kawakami, punches were thrown by multiple players from both teams, resulting in school officials and law enforcement storming the court in an attempt to suppress the altercation.
After a 20-minute delay, Aghazadian and teammate Dawson Souisa were ejected for West Ranch (14-11 overall, 6-4 Foothill) and, barring appeal, will likely be unavailable for the team’s playoff opener.
Kawakami was disqualified for Golden Valley (11-16, 4-6), which lost six of its final seven games after opening league with three consecutive victories.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet (about not having Suren and Dawson),” said West Ranch coach Shant Bicakci, whose team lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with Saugus (17-9, 6-4) for third place and will need to petition for at-large entry into the playoffs.
“We’ll figure it out. We’ve got to find a way to keep it going. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
Additional law enforcement was summoned to West Ranch to prevent further conflict after the contest. Players from both teams were sent to their respective locker rooms by game and school officials without shaking hands following the final buzzer.
West Ranch relied on a league-record 51 points Jan. 24 from Austin Galuppo in a 73-58 win at Golden Valley. Galuppo had 16 points in the rematch, with senior teammate Chris Kodama leading the Wildcats with 26 points.
“Our seniors played really hard and set the tone from the beginning,” said Bicakci. “Everyone just fed off their energy and intensity and that carried us through the whole night.”
West Ranch broke a 23-23 tie in the second quarter with 18 unanswered points in a four-minute span and Golden Valley never got closer than 15 the rest of the way, despite 17 fourth-quarter points from Tahj Thompson.
“We had too many defensive breakdowns and gave them too many second shots, plus we missed too many easy shots,” said Golden Valley coach Larry Keys, whose team suffered its 14th straight loss to West Ranch.
“But an 18-0 run doesn’t come without the help of the other team.”
Josh Jennings added 15 points for Golden Valley and Andrew Austin contributed nine points for West Ranch.