With four games remaining in the Foothill League boys basketball season, there have been a couple of shakeups at the top of the 2018-19 league standings.
Surpassing last year’s win total of 14, Valencia (18-5 overall, 6-0 in Foothill League) sits atop the Foothill League standings having won five of its six league games by double digits, with the win over West Ranch coming by seven points.
Four of Valencia’s league victories have come by 20 or more points with the largest margin of victory coming on the road against Hart by 35 points.
Dating back to last season, the Vikings have won nine Foothill League games in a row and are led by seniors Richard Kawakami, Jayden Trower and Josh Assiff along with sharp-shooting junior Jake Hlywiak.
The Vikings are primed to take their first outright league crown since the 2010-11 season.
“We knew coming into this game this could very well seal it. Nothing can stop us from this point on,” Hlywiak said after Valencia defeated Saugus on Friday. “We just have to keep playing our brand of basketball. The goal is 10-0 and a league championship.”
Last year’s runner-up, Saugus (14-7, 4-2), is coming off its second league defeat of the season at the hands of Valencia and falls into a tie with West Ranch for the second-best record in the Foothill League standings at 4-2, with Saugus holding the tie-breaker.
Entering the game on a six-game win streak and winning four league games in a row, Saugus narrowly squeaked by West Ranch for its first league win of the season then rattled off three straight wins over Golden Valley, Canyon and Hart by 14 points or more.
Over the span of six league games, junior guard Adrian McIntyre is averaging 22.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Freshman sensation and long-range threat Nathan Perez is averaging 14.3 points in that stretch.
“It’s going to take attention to detail,” said Saugus head coach Alfredo Manzano. “Not overlooking anybody and continuing to do better on defense. After the Valencia game, spirits were really down, including the coaches, but as coaches, it’s our job to build the players back up.
“We have four tough games left and we are going to take one game at a time. Our preseason schedule was one of the toughest, if not the tough test in the league, so I think that we are prepared to make the run and finish the league slate strong.”
Needing some help from Valencia and Saugus in order to move up in league, West Ranch (14-8, 4-2) is coming off an impressive 51-40 home win over Canyon on Friday.
The veteran-laden group returned multiple players from last year’s fourth-place team with Carter Williams, Deaken Stangl, Robbie Myers, Alex Grant and Clyde Seo providing the bulk of the scoring for the Wildcats.
“They provide stability,” said West Ranch head coach Ron Manalastas. “They are our anchors that have been there before. Having that varsity experience kind of helps the younger kids with what to expect and they help calm them down when they get nervous or frustrated.”
The Wildcats can gain some ground in league play this week with two pivotal games coming on the road against Saugus (today at 6:30 p.m.) and Valencia at home on Friday.
Making the biggest jump from a year ago, Canyon (9-15, 2-4) has already surpassed last season’s overall and league wins total after going winless in 2017.
After dropping their first Foothill League game by three points to West Ranch, the Cowboys picked up two wins against Golden Valley and Hart to begin the new year, but have since dropped its last three league games to Saugus, Valencia and West Ranch.
Senior guard/forward Willie Yomba has led a resurgence for Canyon after sitting out the 2017-18 season, providing instant offense whenever he is on the court.
Juniors Connor Cooper and Anthony Gallo have stepped up into bigger roles this season and will be relied on heavily down the stretch in order for the Cowboys to have a chance at making the playoffs.
“We pretty much we have to win out with the new rule and finish third or better in league,” said Canyon head coach Sean DeLong. “Possibly have a West Ranch loss in their too, but we are trying to have a more consistent effort. The boys play really hard, but almost every game we will have periods of one or two quarters where we stop executing on offense and defensive side of the ball. We are still in the process of being more consistent and we have to get that in order to finish out the season strong.”
Having a down year sitting in fifth place in league, Hart (7-15, 2-4) is rebuilding after last year’s eight-win, title-winning season.
Rebuilding a roster that lost nine players from a year ago, seniors Julian Verrier and Joey Harand have taken on bigger roles for the Indians while sophomore Isaac Deedon picks up some of the scoring load in his first varsity season.
”Obviously it is a rebuilding year because we lost all five starters and the top two kids off the bench, but every game it seems that it has been someone different,” said Hart head coach Tom Kelly. “Not necessarily starters, but other kids have stepped up and had good games. It’s kind of a wide range.”
Both of Hart’s league wins have come against Golden Valley, winning its most recent matchup on Friday by nine points.
The Indians conclude league play against the top four teams in the Foothill League with games against Valencia (today at 6:30 p.m.) and Canyon at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
Featuring a roster with only five seniors and multiple underclassmen, Golden Valley (3-17,0-6) is still figuring things out while trying to compete for its first league win of the season.
Sophomore Josiah Gatewood has been a low-post threat with his quick leaping ability and 6-foot-3 frame while senior point guard Josh Martin provides steady hands and stout defense for the Grizzlies.
“We are making sure that we continue to stress the fundamentals and the things that we need to have if we are going to start winning ball games,” said Golden Valley head coach Larry Keys. “With a young group it’s hard to stay focused, but that’s what we are doing trying to do. Play hard for 32 minutes.”
Golden Valley’s best opportunity to win a league game on the season comes today against Canyon at Canyon at 6:30 p.m.