Although each Santa Clarita Christian boys basketball player walked across The Master’s University gym individually to collect his CIF SoCal Regional champion medal as an individual, the entire team seemed to have one collective thought: “It was just all the hard work that me and the team put in, it’s just great to see it pay off,” said Kevin Stone. “It’s just a great team.” The Cardinals beat Van Nuys 81-73 on Saturday night, punching their ticket to the CIF Division 5 state championship game. Unlike many of SCCS’ wins this season, however, this one featured constant challenges and a plethora of emotions. The Cards took a 20-11 lead by the conclusion of the first quarter, but the Wolves closed the gap to single digits by the half at 40-34, thanks to some physical baskets from Tyree Winborn and Matthew Sykes. “We were trying to really make them work,” said coach James Mosley. “They made shots over the top of us and then just made for a tough game. It was a real dogfight.” Van Nuys focused their defense on Jordan Starr, limiting the senior to 12 points – most of which were scored in the first quarter. Starr’s brother, Caden, stepped up to fill the role of leading-scorer and tallied 29 points on the evening. “We’re so good because we have so many people who on any given night can score like that,” said Caden. “… If they were focusing more on my brother, then I stepped up. Kevin stepped up big. We had a lot of guys that stepped up big.” Stone scored 16 points total and was clutch from 3-point range in a battle of treys in the fourth quarter. The Wolves drained three 3’s in a little over a minute, but Stone hit two of his own to keep the CIF Los Angeles City Section Division 2 runner-ups at bay. “My goal when I go out there is just to keep the intensity, the energy,” Stone said. “That’s the main goal. There should be no energy drop off when I come off the bench. … I know my shots will come, it’s just defense that I focus on.” SCCS also made 16 of 23 free throws in the second half alone to add some wiggle room in an emotional game both on the hardwood and in the stands. “This game was crazy,” Stone said. “There was a lot of stuff going on … Stay focused when crazy stuff is going on in the stands, fans are saying this and that, so just stay focused, keep your head in it and then stay warm, too. Be ready.” Cardinals sophomore Ty Penberthy did not see playing time due to injury. His absence was precautionary, according to Mosley, and will most likely return for the state championship game. SCCS will face Argonaut of Jackson at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 23. Game time is yet to be determined.