Vikings boys hoops clinches back-to-back Foothill League titles

Benicio Preciado (30) of Golden Valley takes down a rebound against Valencia defenders Favour Princewill (25) and Gilbert Camacho (3) at Golden Valley on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

With a chance to clinch at least a share of back-to-back Foothill League titles with a win, the Valencia boys basketball team visited Golden Valley on Tuesday.

Beating the Grizzlies by double-digits in their first match, the Vikings understood what was on the line. Letting their defensive play start their offense, the Vikings suffocated the Grizzlies throughout the night and won 103-57.

Coupled with Hart’s loss to West Ranch on Tuesday, Valencia was able to win the Foothill League title outright.

“Our effort was there, our focus was there and I like that the kids respected Golden Valley,” said Valencia assistant coach Alan Woskanian. “They didn’t come in and act like it’s a walk-through game. They are learning to respect all their opponents, and Hart showed us that. For us, the mental focus was really a big part of it today.” 

Playing hard defense, Valencia (22-5 overall, 8-1 Foothill League) turned turnovers into buckets on the other end of the floor and led 15-5 early.

Valencia senior Junior Camacho was all over the place. Stepping into passing lanes, reading players’ eyes to intercept cross-court passes to finish the game with three steals, 17 points, five assists and four rebounds.

Camacho, who transferred to Valencia ahead of his senior season after playing one year at Maranatha High School in Pasadena, grew up in Santa Clarita and shared how special it was to clinch the league title:

“It feels great to come back and win a league championship in your hometown. It’s just great,” Camacho said. “Our mentality was to come out and play our game and try to beat our (scoring) record, but we didn’t beat it. We still did our thing and played hard throughout.”

Golden Valley (5-19, 0-9) had a tough time setting up their offense in the first quarter but began the second quarter shooting as senior Benicio Preciado hit a three at the top of the key to get the home crowd on its feet.

The Grizzlies started to move the ball better with Preciado as guards Ayoub Payton, Gabe Sentongo, Mark Coleman and Devin Brown to cut into the Vikings’ lead with their ability to drive and dish.

Preciado recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Getting contributions from the entire team, Valencia sharpshooter Jake Hlywiak only scored two points in the first quarter but caught fire towards the end of the half. Hitting a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, Hlywiak closed out the second quarter with 12 points (three threes) and finished the game with 17 points.

Coming out of halftime inspired to come out with a victory on Senior Night, the Grizzlies went on a 3-point tear. Hitting eight threes in the third quarter, Golden Valley guard Ayoub Payton orchestrated a 32-point quarter to revive the Grizzlies.

Over a five minute stretch, Michael Lombardi, Payton (four threes) and Gabe Sentongo (three threes) all found their stroke from deep.

“It was all momentum,” Payton said about the third quarter shooting. “I figured we had nothing to lose with it being Senior Night and I wanted to get my guys going and the momentum going.”

Payton finished scored all of his points in the second half and finished with a team-high 15 points (four threes), Sentongo had 12 points (four threes) and Lombardi 10 points (two threes).

Entering the fourth quarter with a 35-point lead, the Vikings responded by holding the Grizzlies to just four points, with the help of a running clock.

“Feels amazing,” Veluzat said of the back-to-back titles. “We put in so much work and we stuck with it all year. To say that we clinched the Foothill League championship is pretty cool and Friday we are going to take it home for ourselves.”

The Vikings close out the regular season with a road game at Canyon, while Golden Valley travels to West Ranch on Friday. Both games tip off at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s hard to come out when they are playing against teams that they beat by a lot,” Woskanian said. “But they came out focused and locked into winning the Foothill League title. We were proud of the effort in the beginning. They really came out.”

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