ONTARIO — The Santa Clarita Christian School had muted much of the shock value heading into its second-ever trip to a CIF-Southern Section championship for boys basketball.
That’s what three postseason wins by an average of 40-plus points will do.
Very rarely do teams find themselves in a spot similar to the Cardinals, where their talent level exceeds nearly every other squad in their division by a considerable margin.
But almost just as rarely do teams live up to the sometimes-lofty expectations bestowed upon them.
That’s exactly what SCCS did Saturday afternoon at Colony High School.
The Cardinals ran away with a 66-27 victory over La Puente to win the CIF-SS Division 5AAA title, securing the school’s first Southern Section boys basketball title.
It was the eighth CIF-SS title in school history and the fourth team title.
“They’re a special group — I’ve told them that since Day 1,” said SCCS coach James Mosley, who’s coached the team since 2003. “They showed what this team is about, with how they’ve carried themselves.”
The CIF-SS title may have just been an appetizer for the Cardinals, though. They’ll enter the CIF State Division 5 tournament, which begins Wednesday, where they’ll again be contenders to meet towering expectations.
“It means a lot,” said senior Jordan Starr, who transferred in from Village Christian, along with his brother Caden Starr, prior to this season. “We faced a lot of tough competition to start the season, a lot of tough losses, but we really came together down the stretch and took care of it.”
The Cardinals put to bed any chances of an upset shortly after tip-off. They jumped out to a 13-0 lead and didn’t allow La Puente to score until nearly halfway through the first quarter.
At the half, they led 36-11.
“I would say the biggest thing today was defense,” said Kaleb Lowery, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds and led the team with four assists. “Coach (Mosley) really pressed down on that and that’s what got us out to the big lead.”
Noah Veluzat led the Cards with 19 points and. The two connected on an alley-oop, finished off by Lowery with a one-handed dunk, to give the team a 53-13 lead with 2:47 to play in the third quarter.
“We had our low points (in the season),” said Veluzat. “But we stuck together and kept working hard every day in practice and now we’re here.”
Ralphie Macias, who had 28 points in La Puente’s semifinal win, was held to a team-high nine points and went 4 of 19 from the field. The Warriors as a team shot 2 of 14 from behind the arc.
“I felt like we could really be great defensively today,” Mosley said. “I felt all week that we wouldn’t lose as long as we were aggressive on that side of the ball.”
Justin Collins was third on the Cardinals with 11 points. Jordan Starr finished with six points, five rebounds and three assists. Caden Starr matched Lowery with 12 rebounds to go with six points.
It marked the third career CIF section title for Jordan Starr. He won two San Diego Section titles while playing for Foothills Christian alongside current Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Leaf.
“It feels better this time because I was able to be the leader,” Starr said. “I wasn’t a role player this time. It was fun being a leader and in control.”
The Cardinals were also able to get some floor-time for T.J. Lowery in the win. The senior, who transferred to SCCS with brother Kaleb Lowery from Foothills Christian prior to this season, played only a handful of minutes following a procedure to remove a bone cyst in his knee. T.J. Lowery played the final four minutes of the game and was 0 of 3 from the field.
“He’s had a tough year but he’s served our team so well and has always been there,” Mosley said. “ … It’s so easy to root for him.”