After a lackluster first half, West Ranch Wildcats boys’ basketball nearly stole a win against the visiting Village Christian Crusaders.
West Ranch drew up a nearly perfect play, which gave senior James Evans the ball and a lane to the basket from the backcourt.
The Crusaders recovered in time and tipped a pass out of bounds forcing the Wildcats to have to find another answer on the drawing board. Evans missed a 12-foot jumper but after the loose ball was tipped out, West Ranch had its third shot at a win.
Senior Ryder Sundquist was able to knock down the quick jumper, but with only 0.27 clicks left on the clock, the basket was waved off, as the team knew only a successful tip would’ve sent the game to overtime.
Instead, Village prevailed, 58-56, and avenged last season’s non-league overtime loss to West Ranch.
“It’s a bad loss,” said Cats coach Jeff Bryant. “We came into this game and we thought we were the better team. I thought we had more talent and we’ve played some tougher opponents and we beat those guys pretty handily. So, I think it’s a bad loss and we didn’t deserve to win. They played hard and they deserved to win.”
The Crusaders (8-4) were led by junior Sydney Natche, who carried Village Christian through the first half, when he scored 13 of his 16 points. The junior also added six rebounds and a steal.
Despite a lethargic start, West Ranch (5-3) ended the first quarter up two points. However, some solid Village Christian defense flipped the game in the second quarter.
The Crusaders engulfed every passing lane they could, forcing the Cats into one-on-ones or tough passes. Village took the lead early in the second and never trailed for the rest of the contest.
The Wildcats had some better energy in the second half. The West Ranch gym wasn’t too loud, as the students were already on winter break. Bryant noted his team would have to create their own energy to climb back into the game.
West Ranch started off the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run that tied the score, powered by point guard Darrell Morris.
Morris registered two of his four steals and an assist to shooting guard Bishop Brooks in the run, which tied the score, 51-51.
The Cats point guard finished the night with nine points, four boards and as many assists.
“Darrell knows when to turn it up and he needs to keep his foot on the gas for all four quarters,” Bryant said. “He is a little bit under the weather, he’s fighting off a cold, but he’s our engine. He makes us go and if he’s not able to go then we’re not a very good team. I think that showed tonight.”
Brooks added 10 points and five rebounds for West Ranch.
Both teams went blow for blow with one another but only Village would prevail at the buzzer.
Evans led the Wildcats with 17 points, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Rebounding has been an issue for West Ranch and although the team’s effort was better than it’s been at times getting to the boards, Bryant still wants to see his guys hustle for every rebound.
“I think we have to be better at rebounding,” Bryant said. “They were getting offensive rebounds on us even though we had the height advantage. It’s just a mentality thing to go get the rebound, box out and get the basketball, and that mentality is not there right now.”
Crusaders senior Keller Wilson ate up most of the boards of the night, as he finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
A win would’ve helped West Ranch continue to build its resume for the Open Division playoffs but there’s plenty of season and tough opponents ahead of the Wildcats.
West Ranch will look to improve in the rebounding area in the upcoming week, when the team heads to Las Vegas for the Tarkanian Classic. The Cats won the classic last season and will surely have a target on their backs throughout the tournament.
Village returns to Santa Clarita on Saturday, Dec. 23, to take on Valencia at 6 p.m.
The Wildcats return home for league action in the new year and will host the Hart Indians on Friday, Jan. 6, at 6:30 p.m.