With a chance to clinch the Foothill League title, Valencia boys basketball traveled to West Ranch for a pivotal league game on Friday.
Playing to its strengths, Valencia got the ball inside the paint throughout the course of the four quarters to capture its first outright Foothill League title since 2010, defeating West Ranch 44-42.
“It’s huge man, but we aren’t celebrating just yet because for us we want to go 10-0,” said Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood. “We kind of felt that with the type of team that we have returning, 10-0 is a realistic goal for us.
“It’s very rarely done in this league and this is a great league so it would be an honor to go 10-0. But we aren’t going to celebrate until we finish 10 games and I think at that point we will feel really good with what we accomplished.”
Setting the tone early, Valencia’s Josh Assiff drove baseline, made the bucket and got fouled by Alex Grant to set up an and-one opportunity for the game’s first points.
This was a trend for Assiff throughout the first half. He picked up the scoring by driving into the lane for easy points inside the paint, with Jayden Trower picking up two fouls three minutes into the game. Trower was limited in the first half.
Assiff finished the game with a team-high 12 points and three rebounds.
“I love the way he was playing, thank goodness,” Bedgood said. “We had foul trouble and we weren’t getting Richard (Kawakami) any shots, so he really carried us offensively in the first half.
“I really loved his energy and his intensity, he came out in kind of attack mode and was playing defense. To me he got us to halftime. We played a horrible game first half, but we are tied because of Assiff.”
West Ranch (15-9 overall, 5-3 in Foothill League) answered with a combination of Robbie Myers and Alex Grant layups and free throws to go down 18-16 after eight minutes of play.
Myers finished the game with eight points and eight rebounds and Grant finished with a game-high 14 points and three rebounds.
Time and time again the Wildcats’ Clyde Seo, Carter Williams and Myers were able to get second-chance opportunities but were unable to convert them because of Valencia’s size and length down low.
“I thought two games in a row we played with good effort,” said West Ranch head coach Ron Manalastas. “This time we just came up short because we had a hard time making the easy ones.”
Trailing 27-24 with seconds left in the first half, West Ranch’s Deaken Stangl heaved up a half-court shot that hit the backboard and banked in to tie the game 27-27 at the buzzer.
Scoring his first points since the first quarter, Trower sparked an 11-2 run for Valencia (20-5, 8-0) to begin the second half, capped by a Nick Jenney 3, which just so happened to be Valencia’s only 3-point bucket of the game, to hold a 40-33 lead with eight minutes left to play.
“We never shoot well in this building, it’s kind of a weird thing,” Bedgood said.
Making it difficult for Valencia to score, West Ranch tightened up its defensive intensity down the stretch, holding Valencia to just four points in the final quarter with Kawakami and Trower scoring two points each for the Vikings in the frame.
The two combined for 12 points with Kawakami grabbing nine rebounds and Trower with three of his own.
After a Grant 3, the Wildcats closed with two, down 40-38 with 5:45 left in the game.
Trower answered with two of his six points in the game on a rebound-dunk to bring the Valencia crowd to its feet and put the Vikings up 42-38 with under five to go.
Kawakami’s drive into the lane made it 44-38 and after a free throw by Myers and a desperation 3 by Grant as the buzzer sounded, the Vikings sealed the win and the Foothill League title.
“We want to go 10-0,” Assiff said. “I’m more than confident that we can do that, but we have to take it one game at a time. We are very confident and I think everyone knows that we just have to play our game.”
Valencia continues its quest for an undefeated league season on Tuesday as they host Golden Valley. West Ranch will host Hart on the same day.
Saugus 71, Golden Valley 43
Adrian McIntyre had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Justin Espinoza chipped in 10 points and five rebounds in the win for the Centurions (15-8, 5-3).
Saugus plays at Canyon on Tuesday and the Grizzlies (3-19, 0-8) are at Valencia.