Valencia boys win heavyweight matchup, head to state final 

Valencia High celebrates their win over St. Bonaventure at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal

Vikings take second round with St. Bonaventure, 72-58; will play Half Moon Bay in Division 4A state title game on Saturday in Sacramento 

Tuesday’s CIF State SoCal Regional final had the looks, sounds and feel of a heavyweight boxing bout. 

Both Valencia and St. Bonaventure came out swinging haymakers, with neither able to take full control. Both sides of the Valencia High School gym were rocking with each made basket, and it looked like things would have to be settled at the last second. 

Enter Valencia senior Jayden Ares. With his team leading by nine with just under five minutes to go, Ares hit back-to-back 3-pointers to land the knockout blow to send Valencia boys’ basketball (26-10) to the CIF State Division 4 championship game over the St. Bonaventure Seraphs (26-10), 72-58. 

“I was gonna shoot it,” Ares said. “I didn’t care who was in front, I was gonna pull it. I had the mentality. I told my teammates like, ‘I’m gonna spark it up right now.’” 

Jayden Ares (22) and Tanner Stradley (11) celebrate after Ares hit another three-pointer to extend the lead against St. Bonatventure in the second half at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal

Spark it up the Vikings did. They finished the game on an 18-10 run against a team they knew could come back against them after watching them nearly do so just 10 days ago in the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA championship game that Valencia won, 65-62. 

Ares finished the game with 10 points, knocking down all three of his attempts from long range, and three assists. Senior Kai Davis led the Vikings with 19 points and nine assists, going 11-of-11 at the free throw line. Valencia was 19-of-21 on free throws as a team compared to just 5-of-9 for the Seraphs. 

“It’s not really a goal,” Davis said. “I just know because, you know, I’ve been putting in the work for years, just so focused on the free throws. It’s super simple to me. I don’t have to think about it. I just do what I have to do.” 

Valencia will now play on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento against the Half Moon Bay Cougars (21-10) at 12 p.m. for the state title. The Cougars downed the Chico Panthers in the NorCal Regional final on Tuesday, 71-59. 

There seemed to be no end to the answers that both teams had for each other on Tuesday. Neither team led by more than six until Valencia ran out to a 42-31 lead early in the third quarter. The Seraphs responded, as they had all game, with a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to just one with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Mikah Ballew (4) of Valencia goes up to shoot against St. Bonaventure in the third quarter at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal

“We knew it wasn’t gonna be easy coming into this game,” Davis said. “We already beat this team, so they had a chip on their shoulder. They feel like they should have beaten us in the CIF. But, you know, obviously we showed who’s the better team, and they did do a good job. But this is our home floor, we got to protect it, and we know what we could do.” 

St. Bonaventure junior Dylan Benner was key to the Seraphs staying in the game. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, while sophomore Matthew Wilson had 15 points and freshman Kaden Glover added nine points and six rebounds. 

The Vikings took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, and once again, the Seraphs brought it back, starting the final frame on a 5-0 run. Ares hit the first of his three 3-pointers to bring the Vikings back into their offensive rhythm, the first sign for Seraphs head coach Wolfgang Wood that the game might be slipping away from his team. 

“I think it was just a clash of styles,” Wood said. “They want to run; every time we turned it over, they got out and scored and we kind of want to run a little bit more halfcourt stuff. It was a heavyweight battle, you know, and it went 10 rounds and they won by TKO, I guess you can say, or they won by a unanimous decision.” 

The Seraphs are not a team that will be one-and-done in the postseason. All three of Benner, Wilson and Glover should be back, along with nearly the entire roster. Only four seniors will graduate from the Seraphs. 

“We return 11 players,” Wood said. “We started one senior, so the future’s bright, but we’re not done. We can’t sit back and just be complacent. Our goal this year was to bring a banner in; we got a finalist banner, which we have no banners of basketball in our gym. So, the fact that we have a foundation now, we’re gonna take a couple weeks off, hit the weight room, but now it’s no longer a Cinderella team, surprising teams left and right.” 

Kai Davis (1) of Valencia grabs the ball from St. Bonaventure defender Sam Seiden (1) in the fourth quarter at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal

Valencia is a group full of senior leaders. Davis and Ares are just two of four seniors who start for the Vikings. Senior Mikah Ballew recorded 14 points and four assists, while junior Bryce Bedgood, the lone underclassman to start for Valencia, had 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists despite playing with foul trouble throughout. 

Senior Jacob Michel-Zavala added eight points off the bench. 

The Vikings broke the school record for wins in a row with their 13th on Tuesday. They had to beat a team that had its only loss in its last 16 games to Valencia to do it, a sign for Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood that this group is truly special. 

“I knew we were going to be good,” coach Bedgood said. “I didn’t know if we’d be like historically good, because we’ve got some really, really good teams, but I think now that you kind of look at it, you’ve seen how far we’re going in the playoffs and, you know, they just set a school record for the most consecutive wins. I think this team is historically good, man. And that’s saying a lot.” 

Jayden Ares (22) steals the ball from St. Bonatventure defender Sam Seiden (1) at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal

Ares will be hoping for another big crowd in Sacramento like he’s been seeing during the entire playoff run. The excitement from the Valencia community has meant that much more to him and the rest of the Vikings after what they went through during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s been amazing,” Ares said. “During quarantine, we had no crowd. So, this is just something we dreamed of since we were in junior high, middle school. So, it’s like we’re living the dream right now. Just trying to embrace it all.” 

Saturday’s state championship game will be televised live on Spectrum SportsNet.

Jacob Mazy (0) holds up the Southern Regional Championships trophy as Valencia High celebrates their win over St. Bonaventure at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal
Valencia High players examine the Southern Regional Championships trophy after their win over St. Bonaventure at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal
Bryce Bedgood (35) of Valencia shoots against St. Bonaventure defender Noco Macias (24) in the second half at Valencia High on Tuesday, 030723. Dan Watson/The Signal

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