Two years ago at the BattleZONE Tournament hosted by Adidas and Centennial High School, the Santa Clarita Christian School boys basketball team finished the tournament towards the bottom of the field with one win.
On Saturday after a tough four-game slate in the same tournament, the Cardinals proved that hard work pays dividends and finished 3-1 in the tournament to earn runner-up honors.
“It has been exciting for us to get to the championship game,” said SCCS head coach James Mosley. “When we started three years ago, we got one win so it’s been a gradual growth for us. We are just super proud of the guys that we got to the championship game at such a high-level tournament.”
Kicking off the season and the tournament with a 71-52 win against Temecula Valley, the Cardinals set the tone early with tough on-ball pressure and athleticism.
Junior Josh O’Garro was aggressive and deliberate and lead the team in scoring with 22 points while newcomer Ty Harper chipped in with 15 to provide a second-option scorer.
Another newcomer, Wyatt Kennedy, gave the Cardinals (3-1 overall) a spark off the bench with his perimeter shooting and finished with six points.
“Our whole focus is to do it together,” Mosley said. “Obviously, we do pick our mismatches and stuff, but we want to create a lot of ball movement. We feel like we are better when we are clicking on all cylinders, everyone is touching the ball and getting opportunities to score.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of that, I thought there was a rhythm to the game and we couldn’t have played a lot better offensively. We usually put five guys who are skilled on the floor and that makes it conducive to us kind of being able to shoot the ball well with the ball movement that we have.”
SCCS followed up the 19-point first-round win with a come-from-behind overtime win.
Struggling to find their groove the entire game against Foothills Christian, the Cardinals found themselves down eight points with two minutes left to play in regulation and needed an answer.
Harper used his athleticism and strength inside the paint and followed up his debut as a Cardinal with a game-high 35-point performance to lead SCCS to a 103-99 overtime win.
“Ty’s energy and his toughness just created a momentum swing in the fourth quarter when we were down and we began to pick it up,” Mosley said. “He did a great job of creating a pace defensively as well as offensively and we were able to make up a lot of points in the final minutes of the game.”
In the semifinal matchup, the Cardinals drew national powerhouse Rancho Christian and the No. 1 recruit in the nation in USC commit and 7-foot center Evan Mobley.
Doing an effective job of spreading out the Eagles, in an attempt to negate their size and length, SCCS made it a point to try to get Mobley out of his comfort zone.
The Cardinals employed a variety of defensive schemes to try and neutralize the future Trojan by fronting him and double-teaming all the while trying to be physical and limit the fouls.
O’Garro and Caden Starr led the team with 22 points as five Cardinals players finished with double-digit scoring in the 90-79 win.
“I was proud that our guys weren’t intimidated or nervous at all, they just came out played hungry and aggressive,” Mosley said. “We had 50 points at the half and we ended up with 90, so it was a great offensive night. It was kind of a picture of what we can be when we move the ball and attack the way we work on in practice.”
In the title game, SCCS went up against the reigning 2019 CIF-San Joaquin Section Division 1 champion and the 2019 CIF State Open Division runner-up Sheldon Huskies and Arizona State commit Marcus Bagley, the younger brother of Sierra Canyon alumnus and current Sacramento Kings power forward Marvin Bagley Jr.
The Cardinals did a good job of weathering the storm and trailed the Huskies by nine points heading into the final quarter of play. Unfortunately, the Huskies’ aggressive and physical play wore the Cardinals down and handed SCCS its first loss of the season in 87-56 defeat.
Harper finished the game with 20 points, four assists and three steals, Kaleb Lowery had 10 points and three blocks and Tiago Soares added nine points and two rebounds.
“We learned that we are not afraid of anybody, we are going to come out and compete,” Mosley said of his team’s play and attitude. “We realized we have a good level of talent and that if we play the right way and defend, we can compete with anybody.”
The Cardinals begin Heritage League play tomorrow as they host Vasquez at 7 p.m. at SCCS before their highly-anticipated matchup against arguably the nation’s No. 1 team Sierra Canyon at CSUN at 7 p.m on Wednesday.