Fans of high school basketball in Santa Clarita could ask for no better way to kick off the Foothill League.
As the sun went down and the streetlights came on, Valencia High School’s parking lot began to fill. The Vikings hosted Saugus to start league play with a 62-59 thriller that ended with the Vikings pulling off the win on the final play in front of a sold-out crowd.
“I thought we did a great job defensively. Offensively we struggled,” said Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood. “Part of that is their defense and part of that is just guys trying to do too much.”
The Vikings had control of the game throughout a majority of the 32-minute stretch, but something felt as if Saugus was never out for the count. The Centurions played tough, never trailing by more than 11 points, and even then, for only a brief moment.
“It was misleading,” said Bedgood. “It felt like if we could continue to play like this we could absolutely lose this game.”
Noah Veluzat got the ball rolling with the first bucket of the game. After an assist from Saugus’ Nathan Perez which led to a Davis White score to tie the game, the Vikings took back over and didn’t look back until the closing minutes of the game.
As halftime approached, there was a feeling Valencia might be able to begin to run away with the game. However, Perez was fouled on a shot behind the arc as the buzzer sounded. He knocked down all three shots from the line to save the Centurions from a double-digit halftime deficit. Both teams walked off the court with a 33-26 score line.
However, the Valencia defense continued to hold strong at the start of the second half to give its offense an opportunity to build on its lead. The third quarter ended with nearly the same story, but Saugus trailed by eight rather than seven after Adrian McIntyre missed his second of two free throws with 15 seconds left in the quarter.
The fourth quarter is where the game began to get interesting.
The Centurion offense began to mount a comeback against the Vikings. Even when the Vikings attempted to pull away with 3-point shots, the Centurions responded immediately.
With a minute and a half left to play, Saugus pulled within three points, the closest the score line had been since it made its first basket. The excitement continued to ramp up from there.
The Centurions had three chances to tie the game on one possession, but a shot from behind the arc hit one of the baskets’ support beams to turn the ball over. The next two possessions were back-to-back three’s from both teams with under a minute remaining.
“We just realized it was just another team, but we realized that too late,” said McIntyre.
Saugus had the ball in the final seconds and scrambled to create a play to tie the game. Perez attempted a pass to McIntyre, but Valencia’s K.J. Jones lunged forward to steal the pass and rocket towards the other basket.
“It was a big moment, but I just read the players,” Jones said. “I just knew it was probably going to one more because the guy was open. I read it and I got the steal to end the game.”
The final buzzer was impossible to hear as the gym erupted in cheers from the Valencia students. They spilled out onto the court and swallowed Jones in a swarm of Vikings fans.
“We just realized it was just another team, but we realized that too late,” said McIntyre on the comeback attempt. “It was a tough loss, but we still got them one more time. This was not Saugus basketball tonight and we’ll be coming different for the rest of the league.”
Jones may be the hero of the game, but Veluzat was the star. A stellar game led him to a career milestone. With his 22 points Tuesday night, he managed to pass 1,000 career points.
“I worked really hard,” Said Veluzat. “To know that I passed 1,000, it’s pretty cool. I’d like to try and get 2,000 now. That’s my goal before high school ends.”
Valencia next plays at Hart on Friday at 6:30 p.m.