By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
Valencia boys’ basketball defeated Saugus in the Big Valley Summer Classic quarterfinals, punching the Vikings’ ticket for a trip to the tournament semifinals.
The Vikings were led by guard Mikah Ballew who exploded for a 34-point night.
Valencia managed to jump on top early. Everything was clicking on defense and the offense was quick to capitalize on its forced turnovers. Ballew was a big part of stretching the lead early, hitting four of his first five 3-point shots.
“We’re a hard team to beat,” said Ballew. “We have a lot of pieces we can play with: shooters, rebounders, defenders, we have it all.”
Saugus cleaned it up and jumped back in the game later in the first half. The Centurion defense eventually started forcing tougher shots and forcing turnovers in the paint.
Valencia’s size forced some tough shots for the Centurions in the paint, but Saugus’ crafty playmaking and passing kept leading to scores.
The Centurions managed to cut the lead to 3 but went into the half down 7.
Saugus’ defense then stood tall and held the Vikings scoreless over the first four minutes of the second half, thus allowing the team to go on a 6-0 run, taking the lead.
Valencia played a little sloppier heading into the final 10 minutes of the game. The team would force drives or passes with little to no space to work with. Saugus then got rolling in transition.
Both teams showcased their shooting depth as the two kept exchanging 3-pointers.
Ballew started getting extra attention, especially in the lane. The sharpshooter then found the open man and the offense got back in motion but the Centurions kept finding ways to score.
“That was one of the things that helped us get back into the game when we got behind,” said Valencia coach Bill Bedgood. “They were doubling and really pressuring him so he started making that extra pass. Then Bryce (Bedgood) hit a couple of threes. We look best when we’re moving the ball.”
Vikings forward Bryce Bedgood hit two clutch shots behind the arc in the second half to keep Valencia in striking distance.
Bedgood finished with a double-double, scoring 19 points and pulling in 11 rebounds on his 17th birthday.
Saugus then struggled in crunch time for the second straight game. The Centurions had multiple turnovers and a Jacob Mazy free throw would take the lead back for Valencia.
The Centurions kept fighting but missed some free throws that could’ve made it a one-possession game.
Valencia pulled away as the Centurions were forced to play the foul game.
“The summer’s not just about winning,” said coach Bedgood. “We also want guys to develop. So we’re focusing in these last few games on getting some younger guys minutes.”
Saugus is also not laser focused on winning. Head coach Alfredo Manzano is getting the most out of his brand-new roster after losing every major rotation player to graduation last season.
Manzano has his team playing the same old hardnosed Saugus defense but also got some glimpses of great scoring on Thursday. Three players finished with 15 points on a Centurion team always willing to make the extra pass.
The Vikings now move onto the Summer Classic semifinals with a Friday matchup with Thousand Oaks at Burroughs High School. Saugus will also be at Burroughs as they take on Simi Valley.
Valencia and Thousand Oaks tip off at 5 p.m. followed by the Centurions and Pioneers tipping off at 6:05 p.m.