By Jacob H. Pollon
For The Signal
The Valencia boys basketball team has sure picked the right time to get hot.
Valencia pulled off its third consecutive playoff victory Tuesday night after a wild 53-49 come-from-behind win against Hesperia in the Southern Section Division 2A quarterfinals.
The Vikings advance to Friday’s semifinals against Riverside Poly for the first time in school history.
“We really expected to be here, to be honest,” Valencia’s Josh Assiff said. “Our record really doesn’t explain our story. We are hitting our stride. Guys are buying in. We are getting here early. We are ready to play. We are locked in.”
Things did not look good early for Valencia. Oaks Hills transfer Jaden Shackelford was living up to his lofty expectations. Shackelford was unstoppable early leading Hesperia (24-6) to an 18-10 lead after one quarter and a 10-point lead at halftime.
Shackelford scored 22 points with six 3-pointers in the first half.
“He made a lot of open shots,” Assiff said. “They were running everything for him. We were not getting out on him enough. We weren’t making it hard for him.”
Despite Shackelford’s first-half heroics, Valencia only trailed 31-21. The Vikings knew they were in the game. It would just take more effort and concentration.
“We started to rotate guys and almost box-and-one the kid,” Valencia coach Bill Bedgood said. “Once we started to get some stops it helped us on the other end.”
Valencia slowly kept chipping away. The first real look at the game came when Dexter Akanno (bad ankle and all) made a 3-pointer to bring the Vikings within 45-42 with 5:40 remaining.
Assiff, who finished with 22 points and five rebounds, tied the game at 47-47 with a basket a short time later.
Valencia took its first lead since 2-0 to start the game when Ben Grant made a 3-pointer with 1:46 to go to give the Vikings a 50-49 lead they would never relinquish.
Grant scored nine points and had two assists for the Vikings.
Shackelford was stymied in the second half scoring only five points with none in the fourth quarter.
Valencia has won its three playoff games by a combined 13 points. The Vikings have completely turned around their season after hitting a low points with six consecutive losses right at Christmas.
“It was bad for a while,” Bedgood said. “They acted like we didn’t know what we were doing. The tough preseason schedule was not good back then but it sure is helping us now.
“It just took us awhile to connect as a team. Our coaching staff had no summer with the guys. We got them in the fall and had to get them to buy in. We are seeing it now.”
Valencia ended Hesperia’s 14-game win streak and is hoping to get two more wins for its first ever championship.
“We just have to play our style, not the other team’s style,” Assiff said. “We know it’s all about us.”