ANAHEIM — Two moments, both involving Kayla Konrad in motion, said everything about Valencia’s 50-45 win over Canyon in Saturday’s physical, don’t-turn-the-channel-just-yet CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA final at Honda Center in Anaheim.
With one minute left in the fourth quarter and Valencia’s one-time 14-point lead cut to two, Konrad put her head down and plowed toward the hoop.
She absorbed contact and allowed the Vikings to breath after making two free throws.
Minutes later, after Valencia fended off the last of Canyon’s scrappy comeback, Konrad received her championship T-shirt at midcourt before hopping, skipping and jumping back to her teammates in unbridled jubilation.
Undeniably the driving force behind the Vikings’ historic playoff push, Konrad scored a game-high 23 points Saturday, propelling Valencia to a win over its Foothill League rival and the first CIF title in program history.
“She sees openings and she takes them,” said 18-year Valencia coach Jerry Mike. “She takes them with authority, with conviction.”
The Vikings (27-5) appeared to be in control, up 10 at halftime. But Canyon (21-10) stormed back to close the deficit to two after Selasi Mawugbe’s three-point play with 1:26 left in the fourth.
The smooth, crisp play that had defined Valencia’s first half staled after the break. The Vikings, committing six fourth-quarter turnovers, looked tight.
“I think it was more that excitement was starting to take over,” said Valencia guard Kenadee Honaker, who finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and two steals. “Then down the line, when it was starting to get closer, more nerves were starting to kick in.
“… I knew we all had it (in us).”
Honaker pulled down a defensive rebound and hit two free throws with 22 seconds left to finally put the game out of reach, slapping a passing grade on Valencia’s most arduous test of the postseason.
Entering Saturday, the Vikings had outscored their four playoff opponents by an average of 23.5 points.
A fast first quarter hinted at more of the same. Viking point guard Chyanne Pagkalinawan scored nine of her 12 points in the opening frame to boost Valencia to an 18-7 lead.
The Vikings forced five turnovers in the quarter and parlayed them into eight points.
“I felt like after our pregame talk, we were pretty hyped,” said Valencia guard Ashlee Ane.
Valencia made 4-of-9 three-point attempts in the first half. Canyon went 0-for-6 on its way to a 1-for-12 showing in its second straight CIF sectional final loss.
Talia Taufaasau scored 15 points to lead Canyon, which shot a higher percentage than Valencia from the field (42.9 percent to 40) and from the free-throw line (8-of-10 versus Valencia’s 9-of-17).
The Vikings played more man-to-man defense Saturday than in any game this season, trusting Konrad to battle 6-foot-3 Cowboy Rachel Bowers.
It mostly worked.
Bowers finished with a quiet 10 points, and Konrad conserved enough energy to make 7-of-14 shots and eclipse the 20-point mark for the fifth time this postseason.
Vikings reserve Chidinma Ikonte played 16 minutes, as starter Jade Jordan fell and hit the floor hard in the third quarter, leaving the game with what Mike confirmed afterward was a head injury.
Valencia’s first CIF state playoff game will be Wednesday. It’s unclear whether Jordan would be available.
She played 17 minutes Saturday as part of Valencia’s core four — a quartet of four-year varsity players that includes Konrad, Honaker and Ane.
“I’m very excited,” Konrad said “… Since freshman year, we’ve talked about it and everyone’s been onboard.”
With Konrad driving the ship.