Vikings top Tulare Western, 89-50, in first round of Division 4 state playoffs
There was no doubt who the better team was at College of the Canyons on Tuesday. And the Valencia Vikings knew it.
“We’re the No. 1 seed, make sure they know who we are, make sure that it’s not gonna be easy with us,” Valencia senior Maurice Pitts said.
The No. 16 Tulare Western Mustangs (18-15), the champions of Division 4 in the CIF Central Section, found out the hard way just how tough it can be to play the Vikings (23-10), as Valencia boys’ basketball started the game on a 14-0 run on its way to an emphatic 89-50 victory in the first round of the CIF state Division 4 playoffs.
Even before the game, Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood thought that his team, coming off a Southern Section Division 4AA title on Saturday, had a good chance to go all the way in the bracket. His confidence grew as the game went on, with Valencia going up 20-3 midway through the first quarter.
“I like our chances to go all the way in this bracket,” Bedgood said. “I think we’re the No. 1 seed, we get to host games, that’s a huge advantage.”
Tuesday’s game at COC was technically a home game that would have been played at Valencia High School, but Bedgood said that a leaky roof in the Vikings’ gym forced the game to be moved.
The Vikings will now play in the second round against the No. 8 Grant Lancers (22-10), who beat the No. 9 Sage Hill Lightning on Tuesday, 59-57. Valencia is set to host that game on Thursday, though it remains to be seen if the Vikings’ gym will be ready in time.
Valencia senior Mikah Ballew paced the Vikings with 17 points, five assists and five rebounds on Tuesday. Junior Bryce Bedgood had 17 points and nine rebounds, while senior Kai Davis had 16 points and eight assists.
Those three, along with Pitts and senior Jayden Ares, showed out as the starting lineup in the first half and at the start of the second half. They hit somewhat of a lull just before the end of the first half, though, with the Mustangs storming back to make it 49-28 in favor of Valencia at the end of two quarters.
“We kind of had to actually get on them a little bit at half,” coach Bedgood said, “because it’s a tough game emotionally because you’re coming off a championship game — I think either way, like if you lose it, you’re probably bummed, if you win it, you’re just kind of like, what’s next?
“They didn’t look like the team that played on Saturday, you know what I mean? So then we get in that third quarter, you started to see them — if we’re a championship-caliber team, let’s play like that all the time. We don’t need to have the dips.”
After a rousing start to the second half, the Vikings emptied their bench. On came many of the role players, some of whom put on impressive displays. Junior Mason Grant was the brightest of the bunch, knocking down 4-of-5 attempts from beyond the arc for 12 points.
“We always want to keep the same energy as them, you know, play the same intensity, get up and down,” Grant said. “We just like to play hard, you know, go fast and quick. That’s how we play.”
Some of the biggest cheers came when sophomore Dabe Princewill checked in for the first time just under a minute into the final frame. Chants of “We want Dabe” rang out from the Valencia student section for much of the third quarter, and coach Bedgood gave his fans what they wanted to see with his team leading 73-40 after three quarters.
“He’s just a super popular kid on campus,” coach Bedgood said. “He’s just the type of kid that’s always talking to everybody, just very, very funny, great personality. People just root for him, and he could play, he’s a good player. But he just got to varsity and he gets all wide-eyed, so the crowd — he’s become a crowd favorite.”
Princewill recorded two points, a steal, an assist and three rebounds in his short stint. Sophomore Joey Pulaski added four points, six rebounds and two assists, and juniors Adrian Jalbuena and Tanner Stradley each had five points.
Pitts was happy to see the bench players finding success on a big stage such as the state playoffs.
“We’ve known we’ve had this much talent on the team the whole time,” Pitts said, “and finally getting to see these guys step up and show what they can do, it feels great. Watching them practice, to improve all year, it feels great to finally see them do it on the court, especially in a big-time game.”
Mustangs sophomore Malachi Ficher led Tulare Western with 15 points, while senior Carmine Ficher had nine points and sophomore Kaine Garcia had eight points.
The Vikings know the road will only get tougher from here. The turnaround is short — the second round is Thursday followed by the third round on Saturday — and the opponents will only get better as the Vikings continue to progress.
“Just get better at the little things, you know,” Ballew said. “We got to get better on the defensive end. Offensively, we got to share the ball a little bit more. The better teams are coming up, so we fix that, we’ll be good.”