From winless to champions, Castaic basketball takes CIF title 

Castaic head coach Dominique Butler, center, holds up the plaque with the team as they celebrate winning the CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Share on facebook
Share
Share on twitter
Tweet
Share on email
Email

Castaic Coyotes boys’ basketball seemingly gave a championship effort of 100% to start Friday night’s CIF Division 5AA championship game against the El Segundo Eagles.  

If that was the case, the Coyotes went up to 150% effort in the second half en route to the program’s first CIF championship as the team defeated El Segundo, 63-52, at Azusa Pacific University to win the program’s first-ever title.  

That extra effort and trust in one another is what fuels this scrappy Coyote team, who were drastically undersized yet again. However, Castaic (19-14) swarmed the paint after every shot and lost the rebound battle by just one.  

“Heart over height,” said senior Gio Valentin. “We wanted it more so it doesn’t matter how tall or how big they are.” 

Castiac shooting guard Giovanni Valentin (1) goes up for a layup against El Segundo’s Darreson Naruse (3) during the fourth quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship against El Segundo on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Valentin exploded in the third quarter, where he scored 10 of his game-high 18 points. Valentin started off the game 0-5 as he and the rest of Castaic had solid open looks at the rim but just missed. The senior missed just one shot in the second half and also added four rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals. 

Castaic registered 24 points in the third, to El Segundo’s 18. The Coyotes forced several turnovers, attacked the rim and pulled down 11 offensive rebounds in the game. 

The Eagles (23-10) had an answer for nearly every Coyote point early in the third quarter until Castaic’s seniors took over. Senior guard Lucas Milan drilled a 3-pointer to go up 45-43. With just seconds left in the quarter, Milan heaved a ball down the court to Valentin, and although it was tipped, the two connected. Valentin got a shot off right at the buzzer that was goaltended after initially being ruled no-basket. The bucket gave Castaic even more momentum and a 47-43 lead heading into the final quarter. 

Castaic point guard Lucas Milan dribbles the ball against El Segundo senior Shane Biscaya (2) during the fourth quarter of of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

The senior Milan has been with the program since its varsity berth and finished the game with 10 points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists. 

“It’s amazing,” Milan said. “It’s very special, especially because to start the program we went through some ups and downs of challenges. But we built our way up and we are who we are now. So I’m proud of what we’ve done.” 

Trust has been a key factor for Castaic’s unprecedented playoff run and second-year head coach Dominique Butler showcased it in the second half. 

“I trusted these guys,” Butler said. “We wanted to give other guys opportunities but I could tell that these guys didn’t have tired legs. They were here to fight and compete. The coaching staff challenged them and said, ‘How bad do you want it?’ at halftime and they responded. I’m proud of them for that. Some people can fold under pressure, but these guys didn’t. They took it as a challenge and went and proved us wrong.” 

Castaic senior Thristian Lewis checked back in the fourth quarter and made his presence felt right away. Lewis was defensively a huge thorn in El Segundo’s side with some intense on-ball defense, three steals and a few rebounds.  

Castaic celebrates winning the CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“(Lewis is) our energy guy,” Butler said. “He’s someone that you never have to question his intent for the team. He just wants the team to be successful and to stay together. I call him a ‘Five-hour energy drink,’ because he’s just always everywhere. We appreciate a guy like that, that doesn’t care about points or rebounds, he just wants to fight and stay positive. I don’t think we win this one without his energy and effort and his positivity.” 

El Segundo cut an eight-point lead to just three points with a few minutes to go in the title game.  

However, the bucket would be the Eagles’ final score in the CIF playoffs as Castaic took over and went into cruise control.  

After that, Valentin absorbed a ton of contact and dropped in a lay-in with plenty of game left. El Segundo had enough time to run a few plays but instead opted into some less-than-ideal 3-point shots. The Coyote defense was key in the late stops as El Segundo was held without a field goal for about the first and final two and halves of the fourth quarter. 

Castaic small forward Tashaun Barron (0) shoots the ball against El Segundo defense during the second quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Castaic happily obliged and feasted on transition points in the final minutes to clinch the title season. 

El Segundo was ready for a physical game with Castaic. The Eagles attacked the paint early in the game and built their 25-23 halftime lead thanks to the team’s steadiness from the free throw line.  

The Eagles shot 17-for-20 from the charity stripe, all of which came in the first half, as Castaic was somehow able to cut down on the rough fouls and play a clean second half. 

El Segundo expected Castaic to come out a little more aggressively from the perimeter. After all, the Coyotes were hot off consecutive wins, partially thanks to 30-point games from Valentin and senior Christian Clark, where the pair added a plethora of 3-pointers in their respective showout games. 

Castaic shooting guard Christian Clark (2) drives past El Segundo junior Darreson Naruse (3) during the first quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Castaic shot just 2-for-9 from behind the arc while El Segundo had a cold night from the 3-point line. 

“I thought we’d get stops through the offensive rebound,” said Eagles coach Scott Martin. “Offensively, we had a lot of opportunities in the post and we were only 1-for-14 from three. So if you’re not hitting threes and not scoring in the post, it’s gonna be a tough night.” 

Shane Biscaya and Darreson Naruse led the Eagles with 14 points apiece.

Castaic point guard Ethan Thomas (20) jumps up for a shot during the third quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship against El Segundo on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Senior Ethan Thomas made an impact all over the court for Castaic with his 13 points, six team-high six rebounds and one steal. 

Castaic finishes off its CIF run with yet another upset as the team, the fourth seed in Division 5AA, knocked off all three top seeds, including the top-seeded Eagles. 

“Even though we knew that we were going to be a lower seed, we came in with the confidence that we can beat anybody,” Milan said. “It’s just good game plan, preparation and practice. I feel like if we prepare well in our practice, we will play really well in the game.” 

Castaic guard Giovanni Guardado (24) dribbles the ball during the second quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship against El Segundo on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Castaic, a program with no Foothill League wins, now has more playoff wins and CIF championships than league wins. However, the Coyotes know the playoffs are a whole new season. 

Castaic’s sensational season isn’t over yet as the team will head into the regional tournament in a few weeks. 

“I think we’re going to soak this in tonight,” Butler said. “They might get mad at me if they get a group chat text tonight saying that we have practice tomorrow … Right now, we’re going to celebrate a little bit and enjoy our first championship.” 

Castaic celebrates with their new plaques and shirts after winning the CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic shooting guard Giovanni Valentin (1) goes up for a layup against El Segundo senior Gavin McKinnon (1) during the first quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Attendees celebrate Castaic winning the CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University.
Castaic shooting guard dribbles the ball during the fourth quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship against El Segundo on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic celebrates winning the CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic point guard Lucas Milan (13) jumps up for a shot against El Segundo senior Elijah Coles (4) during the first quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic point guard Ethan Thomas (20) dribbles the ball against El Segundo senior Gavin McKinnon (1) during the second quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic point guard Ethan Thomas (20) fights for the ball against El Segundo seniors Shane Biscaya (2) and Jack Pintens (5) during the third quarter of Friday’s CIF Southern Section Championship on Friday, Feb. 23. at Azusa Pacific University. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS