Valencia boys basketball pulls away from Saugus in league opener

Valencia senior forward Josh Assiff stares down Saugus' Justin Espinoza in a road game for Valencia at Saugus High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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In the first quarter of the contest between Valencia and Saugus boys basketball, both teams were exchanging blows, keeping the game close.

After the first eight minutes however, the Vikings were able to pull away from the Centurions to win 64-44 at Saugus High School on Friday night.

Junior guard Jake Hlywiak was able to spark Valencia’s offense with a big second quarter, finishing with 12 points at halftime.

He ended the night with 17 points, four rebounds and two steals.

“They were really pressuring me and not letting me catch the ball, but I had a little run with the 3-pointer and a couple layups, which kind of sparked my game and I was really feeling it,” Hlywiak said. “I was playing with the most energy I’ve ever played with and it translated.”

Hlywiak has been lights out from downtown for most of the season, so much so that Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood keeps encouraging him to take more shots.

“He’s extremely important because he stretches the floor,” Bedgood said. “He’s shooting about 50 percent this season and he’s not taking a ton of shots. He’s super efficient. We want him to shoot more. He got us going when we were a little stagnant on offense, he went on a streak and woke us up.”

Valencia point guard Richard Kawakami was also an important factor despite playing limited minutes because of early foul trouble.

Kawakami ended up with 12 points and eight rebounds and was a physical presence in the paint, crashing the boards and getting in the lane.

“This is one of the first years he really played point guard in his career. He played the three and four for us last year,” Bedgood said. “I think he’s done an incredible job at point guard. He sees the floor well, he breaks pressure, he can see over the top. The sky’s the limit for him.

“This is the first time where I’m telling the point guard to rebound because he’s such a good

. He’s got a good feel for the game. He’s old school and physical.”

Senior Jayden Trower had nine points, nine rebounds, four assists and a block. Senior Josh Assiff added 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists for the Vikings (8-3 overall, 1-0 in Foothill League).

Valencia senior forward Josh Assiff puts up a shot in a Foothill League matchup with Saugus at Saugus High School Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“This is a statement win right here,” Kawakami said. “We just have to build off this. We have to learn because we can always get better.”

“We thought this was the most important game,” Hlywiak added. “Saugus is a very good team. To beat them on their own home court, I don’t think there is anyone who can beat us.”

Saugus (6-5, 0-1) relied on a trio of players for the bulk of its scoring, with Adrian McIntyre, Nathan Perez and Stephen Tampus logging a combined 41 of the Cents’ 44 points.

The Centurions were without big man Camron Nale, who injured his ankle in practice on Thursday.

Going up against a lengthy and physical team in Valencia gave Saugus difficulties, especially without their starting center.

“Not having Cam here hurt us, it was a big blow,” Saugus head coach Alfredo Manzano said. “Losing Cam is a lot because it’s a lot of size out there and you can see in that second half their size took over.”

With Valencia building a 17-point advantage at the end of the third quarter, Saugus didn’t quit, showing grittiness in the fourth quarter to keep battling.

Manzano said he’s proud that his team kept fighting and wants his players to use this loss as a lesson.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now early in the season,” Manzano said. “We want to fix all the things we did wrong. So we came in with good spirits and on a high, but this is definitely a wake up a call. In the fourth quarter it wasn’t even about the score anymore, it was about staying together and knowing that we are better than what we displayed today.”

Perez finished with 19 points, three steals and shot 5-of-6 from the free throw line. McIntyre had 11 points, five rebounds, one assist and one block. Tampus recorded 11 points and two steals.

Valencia will face Hart in its next league game, scheduled for 6:30 on Thursday, Dec. 20 at Valencia.

Saugus will play West Ranch on the road at the same scheduled time.

“The guys are very resilient and I know they are down in there, but they all bought in so they’ll figure out a way to get it going for the next game,” Manzano concluded.

West Ranch 61, Canyon 58

West Ranch’s Robbie Myers had 24 points and seven rebounds and Alex Grant added 21 points and six rebounds in the Wildcats road win against the Cowboys in the league-opener.

West Ranch will face Saugus at home on Thursday, Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m. and Canyon will hit the road to play Golden Valley at the same scheduled time.

Hart 78, Golden Valley 48

Hart senior Julian Verrier scored 19 points and hit three 3-pointers in the Indians second win of the season.

Golden Valley and Canyon will both be looking for a first league win when they go head-to-head next week. Hart will face Valencia in a road tilt.

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