West Ranch Wildcats boys basketball had a lot on the line Friday night but the team was ready for the moment.
The Wildcats won a physical game at home to clinch their third-straight Foothill League title, win their 32nd consecutive league game and perhaps most importantly beat their crosstown rival, the Valencia Vikings.
West Ranch won the game, 75-62, with big nights all over the box score in front of a packed house in the Wildcat gym.
Shooting guard Jaqari Miles led the Cats with 22 points, mostly from behind the arc. Seniors Jazz Gardner and Andrew Meadow each registered double-doubles in the win for West Ranch (23-1, 9-0).
Meadow finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds while Gardner compiled 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Gardner was draped in Vikings all night as Valencia (14-10, 6-3) was doing anything it could to strip the ball away from the 7-foot rebounding machine.
Meadow started off the game hot with three straight buckets, all coming off assists from point guard Darrell Morris, forcing a quick Valencia timeout. Morris finished the game with seven points and assists.
West Ranch threatened to pull away throughout the game but Vikings senior Mikah Ballew kept his team alive all night. Ballew finished with a game-high 24 points with three assists.
Miles caught fire in the second quarter and somehow kept getting open to knock down several corner 3-pointers. Valencia struggled to stay on Miles, leading to a 42-25 deficit at halftime.
The Vikings used every second of their halftime break and didn’t come back out until just seconds left on the halftime clock.
Miles kept cooking Valencia from deep but this time the fans asked for it. The Vikings student section repeatedly shouted “shoot it” while the Cats guard dribbled several feet behind the arc. Miles obliged and drained the 3-pointer.
Valencia put together a solid quarter in the third. The Vikings finally got out of the negative and outscored West Ranch in the period.
Vikings junior Bryce Bedgood was crucial in cutting the deficit. Bedgood finished his night with eight points, nine rebounds and five blocks. The junior still had a good game but West Ranch made it a focus to slow down Bedgood after his 18-point, 18-rebound game against the Wildcats earlier this season.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Meadow was running for a transition score but took a hard foul to the face from Davis. The Boise State commit took a moment to get back on his feet but returned to close out the league-clinching game for the Wildcats’ 10th straight win.
“We knew it’d be physical tonight,” said Cats coach Jeff Bryant. “I told them in the pregame that this is going to be a fight. [Valencia is] not going to lay down. So, it was a physical battle, but it was a lot of respect.”
Valencia battled but couldn’t get back into striking distance as the team dropped its third league game of the year. Nonetheless, the Vikings batted hard for 32 minutes in front of the biggest home crowd Bryant has seen in a while.
“It’s a rivalry,” Bryant said. “Any time we’re playing Valencia, our crosstown rival, we have to get up for it because it’s not going to be an easy game. We saw the crowd and the stands were filled tonight. We haven’t seen a crowd like this since pre-COVID. So, it was all love. I appreciate the fans coming out.”
The Vikings are still in good shape to make a run this postseason. The Division 4AA Vikings need just one more win to clinch their spot in the playoffs with four games remaining.
Valencia will return home Tuesday for a league matchup with Canyon at 6:30 p.m.
The Wildcats are red-hot yet again, now on their second double-digit game win streak of the season. West Ranch can become outright Foothill League champs on Friday at 6:30 p.m. when the team heads to Hart.
“I think we still need to get better every single day,” Bryant said. “We’re not where we want to be at. In order for us to even compete in Open we have to be at our best. So, we have a lot of work to do. But it feels good to at least get a share of the league title and that’s our third straight.”
Another league championship is one of several goals for the Wildcats. The team has the aspirations and the resume to be a force in the CIF Open Division.
“I think just how many different guys we have, it can be anyone’s night,” Meadow said. “We have six or seven different guys that can really help us win. I think understanding that not everyone is going to score 20 points and just coming together as a team and winning a championship is a better feeling than scoring 20 points.”