For all but three minutes and 46 seconds, the Valencia boys basketball team controlled the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA semifinal game against Rancho Cucamonga on Saturday night.
Up by five points with 3:46 left in the contest, the Vikings seemed poised to pull away with the road win, but the Cougars crawled their way back to take the lead and grab the 62-59 win.
The Vikings had to play the last six minutes without senior point guard Richard Kawakami, who fouled out. He was in foul trouble for the entire contest, which prevented him from putting his imprint on the game.
Senior Jayden Trower also fouled out late, and head coach Bill Bedgood was forced to go with a lineup that didn’t have as much experience in high-pressure moments.
Typically two of Valencia’s top-scorers, Kawakami and Trower combined for only nine points.
“It was tough, we were a little scattered, deep in our bench. Richard fouling out hurts us, Jayden fouling out hurts us,” Bedgood said. “We’re playing some guys in tough spots under pressure, loud gym, you could see some of them made some unforced errors that hurt us. If we had more of an experienced lineup on the court we would have handled the emotion a little better and executed better.”
Sharpshooting guards Jake Hlywiak and Noah Veluzat picked up the bulk of the scoring, with the former scoring 17 points (4-of-7 from downtown) and the latter finishing with 18 points (2-of-5 from beyond the arc).
Hlywiak started the first half with a bang, drilling three 3-pointers and getting fouled on two other attempts, earning him six free throws in which he made five. The junior added four rebounds, one assist, one steal and a block.
Veluzat was also aggressive, providing a spark off the bench by attacking the basket relentlessly and crashing the glass. The sophomore had six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.
“I think Veluzat did a great job for us,” Bedgood said. “He was aggressive and kept us in the game. we had to rely heavily on him.”
After a quiet first half, senior Josh Assiff started to pick up the pace, using his length down low to score in the paint and grab rebounds.
Of his 12 points, 10 came in the second half. He also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out three assists and had one steal.
In the final minutes of the game, the Vikings gave up several offensive rebounds, turned the ball over, gave up easy buckets and missed some free throws, which sealed their fate.
Bedgood said the atmosphere also played a part, as it was the first road playoff game for Valencia. He believes had they had another road game before this one, things may have turned out differently.
“You can’t base everything on one game or one bad performance on the road. It wasn’t a bad performance. It was just mentally. We lost our composure at times,” he said. “I think there are a lot of lessons that can be learned about how to finish games, how tough it is to win on the road. Road games are tough in the playoffs and unfortunately for us, not playing a road game up until this point, we didn’t handle it as well as we could probably handle it.
“If we had another road game under our belt, we’d react better to bad calls or tough situations.”
In the end, it wasn’t the finish Valencia was aiming for, but Bedgood reflected on a season that had a lot of high points.
He told his team he was proud of them and to remember all the milestones they achieved this year.
“They did great. I’m so proud of them. 10-0 in league, a lot of different milestones, 11-game winning streak, longest in school history. We set a lot of records, but the one we wanted the most was to get the finals, that was the one thing we’ve never done also,” Bedgood said. “I think beyond that they achieved a lot. I think when they have time to reflect on it they’re going to realize they really worked hard to turn the corner with this program. They should be proud.”