A second-quarter surge lifted West Ranch Wildcats boys’ basketball to victory on Tuesday in its home CIF Open Division matchup with the St. Bernard Vikings.
It took nearly a year to date, but the Wildcats avenged last season’s postseason loss to the Vikings. The returners and head coach Jeff Bryant wanted this one more than any other win so far this season.
“We waited 365 days, tomorrow a year exactly for this game,” Bryant said. “It hurt so bad last year to see us go down on that last shot. My seniors last year, who were in the program for years, this game was for them.”
West Ranch took over the game in the second quarter and continued with a dominating rebounding performance, after a slow start on the boards.
The Wildcats never let up on their big lead and went on to win the game, 79-58.
James Evans and Andrew Meadow led the Cats in scoring with 16-point nights. Evans also tallied six assists as West Ranch moved the ball well all night on its way to a second straight win in Open Division pool play.
St. Bernard (21-7) scooped up countless offensive rebounds early, leading to numerous second-chance points. A hot start from behind the arc also fueled the Vikings’ hot start in the first quarter, as the team hit four straight 3-balls, including two from Kendyl Sanders.
Sanders led St. Bernard with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Freshman Tahj Ariza also gave the Vikings an early boost with seven points, four rebounds and a block — in front of the West Ranch crowd and his father, NBA champion Trevor Ariza.
Once the Wildcats (29-1) started boxing out and fighting for rebounds, the game was theirs to lose. West Ranch took over on a 12-2 run, scrambling the Viking defense.
Junior Zach Bauman was a spark plug in the first half for West Ranch. The Cats’ ball movement led to open-looks for Bauman in the corner, where he knocked down three straight 3-pointers.
Underneath the rim, seniors Jazz Gardner and Isaiah Fields helped set the tone with nine-rebound nights.
“Rebounding was the main thing,” Fields said. “We feel like we can beat any team as long as we execute on the rebounds. So that was definitely a big part.”
Fields added eight points, two steals, one block and a soaring, missed dunk that nearly started a frenzy in the crowd.
The center Gardner also finished with 13 points and four blocks.
The Vikings were still finding ways to rebound and score but never recovered. St. Bernard had to deal with a 7-footer at the bottom of the key, in Gardner, while at the top of the key, Cats point guard Darrell Morris was causing just as much havoc.
Morris’ notorious defense drew a handful of offensive fouls, while registering six points, six assists and a steal.
All starters were pulled from the game with just under two minutes to go as the Wildcats coasted to their 16th consecutive win.
St. Bernard is officially eliminated from an Open Division title but the team can still play spoiler on Friday against St. John Bosco, before heading into the state tournament in a few weeks. A trip to the Honda Center is on the line for one last game for West Ranch. The Cats head to Harvard-Westlake on Friday, needing a win to advance to the Open Division title game.
For Bryant, it’s the biggest game in the program’s history and will take everything for West Ranch to emerge victorious.
“It’s going to take grit, it’s going to take smart IQ, because they’re a high-level team that executes their plays,” Bryant said. “It’s going to take us boxing out and rebounding the basketball. We have to address that but if we can do that, I like our chances.”
The Vikings head out to Bellflower to take on St. John Bosco while the Wildcats head to Studio City to face Harvard-Westlake on Friday at 7 p.m.
“We’re feeling really good,” Fields said. “We expected to make it this far but you never know what’s going to happen. So, I think everything’s going according to plan and I can’t wait to see what’s next for us.”