Valencia Vikings boys’ basketball won its first CIF championship on Saturday after holding off a comeback from the St. Bonaventure Seraphs.
The Vikings held a double-digit lead midway through the third quarter but the Seraphs kept chipping away in the Division 4AA title game at Mira Costa.
Seraphs senior Nico Macias fired off a clean look just before time expired but the potential game-tying shot was an inch too long and missed, giving Valencia the 65-62 victory.
Vikings senior Mikah Ballew was on attack mode throughout the game until fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Ballew poured in 30 points, three assists and three steals in his championship performance.
Junior Bryce Bedgood was a force in the post. Bedgood finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, and will likely be named the CIF D4AA Player of the Year after his dominant playoff run.
The Vikings duo was tasked with slowing down St. Bonaventure forward Dylan Brenner. The 6-foot, 7-inch Brenner is the focal point of the Seraph offense. He was held in check for the first half but exploded in the second half, where the senior scored 16 of his 18 points. Brenner also added eight rebounds and five blocks.
“[Brenner] was a main priority,” Bedgood said. “We were watching hours and hours of film and we realized that the way they score is the big guy. And I just really had to take pride in my assignment to win this game and really have to step up as a defender. All the offense is going to come but to win like a big game like this, I’m going have to contribute on defensive rebounds and getting big stops for us.”
Valencia’s physical defense pushed the Seraphs in the first half, where St. Bonaventure was held to just 11 points a quarter. The Vikings also racked up plenty of trips to the charity stripe, where the team was nearly perfect, going 14-of-16 at the free throw line.
“I think that this is the best free throw shooting team I’ve ever coached,” Valencia coach Bill Bedgood said. “It’s huge, right? In close games, we just have so much confidence.”
The Seraphs (23-9) have mounted several comebacks this season and coach Wolfgang Wood knew his team understood the path to stealing one more lead in a big game.
“I think our biggest thing in the fourth quarter was just we’re here and we’ve been down before,” Wood said. “We’ve been down late in games before and that’s been something that we understand. It’s each possession at a time. I think we’re down nine going into the fourth quarter, that’s only three possessions. So, we have that mentality, we understand that we’re going to be down, but we just kept telling them just one stop at a time.”
Ballew fouling out certainly helped the Seraphs nearly steer the momentum of the game away from the Vikings (22-10). However, with less than a minute left in the game, St. Bonaventure freshman Jaden Whitehead checked into the game for the first time and gave his team life. Down by five, Whitehead came up with a critical steal and was fouled at the other end before he hit two clutch free throws.
Valencia nearly iced the game on the next possession but missed just the team’s second free throw of the night before Macias’ near game-tying 3-ball.
Neither of these teams expected to be on this stage around a year ago. St. Bonaventure finished with 10 wins while Valencia had just five. Even the summer was rough for the Seraphs before the team put together a fantastic season.
“We had a bit of a losing streak in the summer,” Brenner said. “We actually came together during the season. We had a common goal.”
Valencia on the other hand had a stellar summer, with a handful of tournament wins. However, the team was 7-9 at one point and looking like another struggle of a season was unfolding. The Vikings went on to win 15 of their last 16 games, most of them with comfortable leads.
Senior Kai Davis has been a four-year varsity player for the Vikings and now will graduate a CIF champion.
“Looking back last year, I mean, this is just, you know, just a complete 100% turnaround,” Davis said. “I feel like we’ve been doing more than most teams have been able to. In two years, I feel like we went through a lot. We won Section Seven, we won all of the tournaments, we’ve had hard practices and hard workouts. So, I’m just not surprised that we got to this point because it was a new time that something like this had to happen.”
Davis finished his CIF run with nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
Valencia has seen a plethora of great basketball come out of its program. Now after almost 30 years of the school’s existence and the program’s dominance, Vikings’ boys’ basketball will raise a CIF banner in a gym with not much wall space left.
“It means a lot because there’s just been so many good players that have played here,” coach Bedgood said. “There’s been so many times that they’ve been on the cusp of winning something and it says it just took that one team to just kind of finish it. I just knew that this was the team to break through just because of the confidence and the senior leadership. It was a matter of time before someone broke through and I’m so happy for Santa Clarita. We’ve got a [boys’ basketball] CIF champion for the first time since 1985.”
Both teams will now prepare for the state tournament with not much preparation time, or celebration time in Valencia’s case.
The Vikings will take on the Tulare Western Mustangs, the champions of Division 4 in the CIF Central Section, on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at home in the first round of the state tournament.