Wildcats claim fifth straight over Vikings, 27th overall in Foothill League play
The energy in the Valencia gym could be felt the moment you walked in.
Both the West Ranch and Valencia students packed their respective student sections, leading to one of the best crowds in the Santa Clarita Valley since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That was kind of like a throwback,” Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood said. “It’s been years that we haven’t had full crowds. It’s been years that we haven’t had a great, competitive atmosphere of the game, at a big game. I think we really felt like it was gonna be a big game, and a competitive game.”
Competitive is the right word. The Vikings (5-6, 1-2) battled all the way through, but in the end, the Wildcats (7-0, 3-0) pulled out their fifth straight win over Valencia, and 27th straight in Foothill League play, 72-64, Tuesday night at Valencia High School.
The two teams were locked together from the tip, with neither going up by more than eight points at any time. That was Valencia’s largest lead with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter before the Wildcats put together a 12-0 run to end the frame and take a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.
It was all Wildcats from that point on, with West Ranch senior Jaqari Miles getting five of his team-high 19 points in the final frame to keep his team’s perfect record intact.
“They started throwing turnovers and we started scoring, getting dunks, and that really just gave us that energy, that boost,” Miles said.
The Wildcats outscored the Vikings 39-30 in the second half. That came after Valencia junior Jacob Michel-Zavala put his team out in front at halftime, 34-32, with a layup to beat the buzzer.
Bedgood felt that despite the lead at the half that his team was capable of doing more, which in turn could have meant a win at the end. The Vikings were down 11-3 to start the game before storming back and keeping pace with the back-to-back Foothill League champions.
“I was really expecting a better start and then we got we got off to a bad start, but I was impressed with how quickly we kind of got back in it,” Bedgood said. “I was telling them at half, I’m like, ‘Dude, we played bad for the first three, four minutes. We really should be up by more than two.’”
The Vikings were able to continue battling for the first half of the third quarter before the Wildcats began to show off their athleticism in the open court, turning turnovers into easy buckets.
It was a simple fix for West Ranch head coach Jeff Bryant III. He was unimpressed with his team’s first-half performance, leading to a different mentality coming out of the break.
“Yeah, I think we just bumped it up, put on our big-boy pants,” Bryant said. “We know we don’t want to lose the game in Foothill League. We don’t want to lose a game in California. So, we had no choice but to put on our big-boy pants and out-talent them. That’s kind of what we did.”
The Wildcats were led by Miles’ 19 points, four assists and three steals, as well as senior Isaiah Fields (18 points, three assists, six steals) and junior James Evans (14 points, five assists). Those three made up for off nights from the Wildcats’ two stars, seniors Andrew Meadow and Jazz Gardner.
“I really think that we have our nights,” Miles said. “I think they were more focused on Jazz and Andrew, so that made us have to play our role and step up. But I really think that we all did this together.”
Meadow was held to 15 points while Gardner had just six. Bedgood credited his son, junior Bryce Bedgood, for keeping those two from dominating in their usual fashion. Bryce had 18 points and 18 rebounds to go along with four blocks and three steals.
“You hear about Jazz and you hear about Meadow, those are two, I think, both those guys are freaking great players,” coach Bedgood said. “But as a junior, this guy’s neck and neck with those guys and battling.”
The Vikings also saw senior Kai Davis step up late in the game, recording five of his team-high 19 points and two of his three assists in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t just the on-ball ability that Davis showed, but also the leadership that coach Bedgood has been waiting to see from him, huddling up his teammates after nearly every bad possession to regroup.
“He’s not the most vocal player,” coach Bedgood said. “He’s more of a lead-by-example guy, but he’s taken that role on and he’s our one and only captain. I mean, I think he’s really the only guy that can really get the team to listen and stay on course and not lose confidence.”
Valencia senior Mikah Ballew also found his rhythm late, scoring five of his 11 in the fourth quarter. He was a question mark coming into the game with an ankle injury, according to coach Bedgood, and he sat out last week’s win over Castaic with this game in mind.
Coach Bedgood said that Ballew rolled his ankle during the game, and even with four fouls to his name, Ballew was called on late in the game to try to give his team a spark.
“That’s just pure heart,” coach Bedgood said. “He had four fouls, and I’m telling him at the start of the fourth, ‘I don’t even care if you foul out, man. Just give us one little spark.’ … And he did that for us and he really kind of put a little run together and hit a couple shots that kind of reminded us, you know, this is the best he’s been.”
The Wildcats were without junior point guard Darrell Morris due to sickness, Bryant said. His status for the Wildcats’ next game, Friday at Village Christian, is unknown.
Valencia will get ready for another Foothill League matchup on Friday, this one away at Canyon at 6:30 p.m. But the Vikings’ minds will always return to the Wildcats and their next meeting at West Ranch on Jan. 20.
“I thought they did a great job getting their guys kind of refocused in the second half and kind of turning up the heat on their pressure,” coach Bedgood said. “I think if we don’t turn the ball over, that’s a game that we finish and we win.”