With an 11-game winning streak on the line, the No. 15 ranked team in Division 1, Valencia boys basketball, traveled to the No. 16 ranked team in Division 2AA, Saugus, in the second matchup this season at Saugus High School on Friday.
Saugus came out on fire to begin the contest, hitting seven threes in the first quarter and held a 12-point lead at one point, but the Vikings rallied to pull within three points before the quarter was over.
“That was a good experience for us, we haven’t trailed at the end of a quarter for a while,” said Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood. “I was almost kind of excited because it was a different scenario for us and I wanted to respond. We were down big and I think we finished the quarter down three or four, but that was literally the first time in two seasons that that has happened.”
Ultimately, Valencia chipped away at the Saugus deficit and late in the fourth quarter pulled away to defeat Saugus for the second time this season in a 77-70 victory for a school-record 12th consecutive win.
“For us, it was a matter of being calm and accepting it,” Bedgood said. “They played really well in the first quarter, but over time we will be the better team.”
Saugus seemed to be in control early, even with sophomore Davis White going down in the first 20 seconds of the game clutching at his face and mouth area. He never returned to the game.
The Cents, specifically Nate Perez, Adrian McIntyre and Kyle Santiago, went to work and hit seven threes between the three and quickly made the Vikings rethink their gameplan.
In typical Valencia fashion, they battled back behind the play of Junior Camacho, Noah Veluzat and Jake Hlywiak, along with the defensive play and driving ability of KJ Jones.
Hlywiak led the team with 22 points (four 3’s) and Camacho had 19 points. Both of them pulled down six rebounds.
“Those little things. Steals, rebounds and assists,” Bedgood said of Jones. “He does a good job of taking care of the basketball. Sometimes Saugus applies pressure and he does a good job of settling us down.”
Both teams battled back and forth in the second quarter and Saugus held on to a slim, two-point lead, ahead 46-44.
Perez began the second half just as he did the first, on fire, and kept Saugus (15-8 overall, 3-3 in Foothill League) in the lead halfway through the third quarter.
Perez recorded a double-double and led the Centurions in scoring with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Keying in on Perez and McIntyre, the Vikings (20-4, 6-0) forced other Saugus players to score and it worked. Holding the Cents to 11 points in the third quarter, the lowest-scoring quarter of the night for either team and climbed back in the game.
With seconds left in the quarter, the Vikings pulled in front and led 60-57 after Camacho backed down a Saugus player for the easy layup at the buzzer.
“The game plan was really solid and I tinkered with it, it was my fault that we ran some zone in the beginning, but we were trying to be a little unpredictable,” Bedgood said. “Then coach got the guys back to doing what we do, which is half-court man and helping. We started keying in on McIntyre more to slow him down.”
The combined defensive effort of Camacho and Veluzat stymied McIntyre in the second half, that he didn’t score his first field goal of the second half with under three minutes left in the game. By then, it was too little too late and Valencia got the win.
McIntyre finished with 27 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Veluzat finished with a triple-double with 16 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds and dedicated the win to Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell, two of the fallen victims of the tragedy that happened at Saugus.
“Tonight’s game was for Gracie and Dominic,” Veluzat said. “I was thinking about them every single play. Every time I took it to the basket I was thinking how we are blessed to play this game. It was a real tragedy that happened in our community … Prayers out to their families.”
Both teams are back in action at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, as Valencia hosts Hart and Saugus travels to West Ranch.
“A school record, 20 wins and finally ranked in Division 1,” Bedgood said. “This is a special night, this is a tough team to beat. It’s always hard to win on the road, but what a great finish by these guys. Even though we didn’t shoot free throws well at the end of the game, it means a lot. These guys have achieved and I’m happy that they are finally going to get their dues.”