Vikings close the game on a 16-3 run; Division 4AA final against St. Bonaventure set for Feb. 25
Valencia senior Kai Davis wasn’t sure where the Vikings would be this season. The boys’ basketball team won just five games last year and missed out on the playoffs altogether.
Friday night at home, Davis led all scorers with 23 points to help the Vikings (21-10) top the Beaumont Cougars (23-9), 65-51, in the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA semifinals to reach the first final in program history.
“It feels great that we’re the first team to ever make it that far, and I’m happy to be a part of the team,” Davis said. “It’s a great group of guys. It just feels really good because a year ago, we never thought we would have made it this far.”
The Vikings’ captain scored seven of his points in the final quarter, including a dagger 3-pointer to put his team up by 12 with 1:40 to go as Valencia finished the game on a 16-3 run. He also recorded seven assists and 11 rebounds in the Vikings’ eighth straight victory, and 13 of 14, dating back to the regular season.
“At the end, we just played as a team,” Davis said. “We didn’t want to lose on our own court. We’re the No. 1 seed and this is what we’re supposed to do.”
The Vikings will now face St. Bonaventure in the final next Saturday, Feb. 25, at a site and time to be determined after the Seraphs topped Woodrow Wilson in the other semifinal on Friday, 70-53.
Beaumont still has at least one more game to look forward to, with all four semifinal teams guaranteed a spot in the CIF state playoffs.
Valencia senior Mikah Ballew has been a big part of the Vikings’ resurgence this season. The Alemany transfer had 16 points and three assists, and while he had just one make from beyond the arc, it was a big one to put the Vikings up by four midway through the fourth quarter.
“We got a special young group of guys,” said Ballew, who crossed the 1,500-point mark in his career in the Vikings’ second-round victory over Warren. “A lot of good juniors and sophomores and seniors who have been here all four years. I just knew, first practice here in the summer, I just knew like, man, we can really get far in this thing.”
The Cougars gave the Vikings fits early on and led by nine. Valencia was able to come back and take a 29-24 lead into the half, but Beaumont kept fighting. The Cougars cut the deficit to just four at the end of the third after Valencia had led by as many as 11.
Beaumont senior Rueben Hutubessy hit a transition layup midway through the fourth to cut the deficit to just one point, prompting a Vikings timeout by head coach Bill Bedgood. After that, the Cougars were held scoreless for over three minutes and the Vikings started their victory run.
Bedgood credited his players for sticking with the game plan, with much of the focus on forcing turnovers and contested shots before running out in transition.
“We play good fast, and I felt like they’re more of a slow-it-down team and we were kind of playing their tempo, and we kind of kicked it up a notch,” Bedgood said.
Hutubessy had a team-high 18 points, while junior Vince Capuras had 13 points with four 3-pointers.
The Cougars took plenty of shots from behind the arc, something that Bedgood noticed was causing his team some trouble.
“Sometimes they can get hot,” Bedgood said. “They don’t shoot a great percentage, but if you shoot enough of them and you start hitting them, you get confident. Also, you’re gonna get those long rebounds. I thought we started doing a better job tracking down the long rebounds, we’re not leaking out, we’re trying to finish the play.”
Bedgood’s son, Bryce, a junior on the Vikings, was key in both stopping the Cougars from attacking the basket and starting the Vikings out in transition. He finished the game with 13 points and 12 rebounds, six of them on the offensive glass, to go along with three blocks and two assists.
The younger Bedgood has been a force in the postseason, recording a triple-double with 28 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks in the win over Warren. He was averaging 23 points and 14.7 rebounds per game in Valencia’s three playoff games before Friday.
“Personally, he’s one of the top centers in SoCal,” Davis said. “He’s definitely one of the top here, and I don’t think there’s anybody that can compete with him.”
The Vikings may be in new territory — coach Bedgood said that the Vikings had been in two semifinals before but hadn’t made it past that point — but Ballew is confident that the tough schedule he and his teammates have faced, going up against multiple teams in top divisions in the section, has them ready to finally bring home a CIF title.
“We’ve prepared for this since the summer,” Ballew said. “Since this team has been together, we knew we could do big things. We won basically every tournament we’ve been at, we competed with Open Division teams, some of the best teams in the state, and even in the country. We just knew we could do big things.”