The new-look Centurions might be alright.
Led by senior Max Tengan’s 26 points, Saugus boys’ basketball (3-2, 1-0) won its Foothill League opener, 54-52, over the Valencia Vikings (4-4, 0-1) at home on Tuesday.
Tengan shot 50% from the field, adding eight rebounds, four steals and two assists to lead the Centurions to victory.
His biggest bucket came with just under two minutes to play when he pulled up at the left elbow and sank a jumper to give his team the lead before sinking a free throw with 11 seconds left to put the finishing touches on his masterful Foothill League debut.
“My teammates trust me, my coach trusts me, so there’s no pressure at all,” Tengan said. “Make or miss, I’m gonna get back on the next one.”
Tengan is one of many new faces for the Centurions, who returned only three players from last year’s team that finished second in the league. Head coach Alfredo Manzano has made teamwork and ball movement the big priorities for his group, as evidenced by the 13 assists on 20 made baskets in Tuesday’s win.
“We changed our offense from years past for more movement and getting guys into certain spots because this team is obviously new and different,” Manzano said. “We’re big on moving that ball.”
Valencia was down 9-0 to start the game, which Vikings head coach Bill Bedgood attributed to some of his key players being “banged up.” They managed to go ahead after the first quarter before the Centurions came back to tie it up at the half. The two teams continued to battle throughout the second half, with the Centurions just narrowly escaping with the win.
“I think we made too many mistakes to win on the road,” Bedgood said. “Too many turnovers or just our execution wasn’t real sharp. It was a winnable game for us, but I don’t think we played clean enough to win on the road.”
Vikings senior Mikah Ballew, one of those players Bedgood said was playing hurt, was asked to play in the post to keep him from having to move too much on the perimeter. Ballew was held to just two points after coming into Tuesday averaging more than 20 points per game.
“He showed a lot of heart in trying to play,” Bedgood said.
Manzano credited junior Peter Burton for keeping Ballew in check.
“His task was to guard the best player,” Manzano said. “I don’t know what he ended up with, maybe two or four points. But he did a really good job with that.”
Valencia had to get offense elsewhere, and the Vikings got it from multiple players. Senior Kai Davis had 13 points, including four free throws late in the game, while junior Bryce Bedgood had a team-high 18 points to go along with 13 rebounds – six of them on the offensive glass – and senior Maurice Pitts hit three from beyond the arc for his nine points.
“I really was proud of the efforts of Bryce and Maurice Pitts,” coach Bedgood said. “I thought Maurice, I mean, a guy who’s been starting and was asked to come off the bench, I mean, brought so much energy. I thought both of those guys really kept us in the game in the first half until we got some other guys involved.”
Saugus saw junior Justin Perez go 4-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 from deep for 10 points to go along with six rebounds and two assists. Burton added eight points and senior Lenox Lavalle had four points and four assists.
The Centurions were buoyed by their home crowd, which had the Saugus gym rocking from the opening tip. Tengan was fully aware of how that kind of environment can shift the momentum in a game.
“I felt that the environment brought everyone’s spirit up, and it was just an overall great team win,” Tengan said.
Coach Bedgood is looking forward to the rematch when the two teams meet again on Jan. 13. He’s hoping to have his team fully healthy and ready to match the Centurions’ gritty style.
“Great way to start the Foothill League,” coach Bedgood said. “Exciting game right out of the gate, and we’re just looking forward. It’s unfortunate that we got banged up, it’s like we started the year great, we got banged up right before Football League started, so it’s like we kind of limped into league a little bit. But it’s only gonna make us stronger.”
Valencia travels to Notre Dame on Thursday, with the tip set for 6:30 p.m.
Saugus will stay at home, and in the Foothill League, hosting West Ranch at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. It’s another shot for these Centurions to prove that, despite not having the size or the flashiness that other teams have, that they are going to be a force to reckoned with.
“Everyone has to wake up,” Tengan said. “They got to stop counting us out.”