Saugus Centurions boys’ basketball had trailed for the majority of the game, and was dealing with some streaky shooting and tough defense in its playoff opener with the Valley Christian Defenders.
However, the Centurions turned the tides in the fourth quarter, exploding on both sides of the court en route to a 64-52 victory in their Division 2AA playoff opener on Wednesday.
Saugus (22-7) sparked a 14-2 run in the final quarter and held Valley to one field goal through nearly five whole minutes. The Centurions pounded the ball into the paint, where they scored nearly all of their 27 points in the quarter. Saugus missed a handful of contested shots at the rim but made Valley Christian (16-13) pay with numerous second-chance points that gutted the Defenders in the fourth.
Seniors Peter Burton and Justin Perez led Saugus with 20 points and seven rebounds each.
“It’s commitment and heart,” Burton said. “We express ourselves and we show our care for this team with our passion in our defense and the effort we provide. Give it your all no matter what because we know it’s ride or die.”
Junior Max Guardado closed out the game strong, adding 11 of his 15 points in the fourth. Guardado, a 6-foot, 5-inch junior, ran well in transition and was too much to stop once the Centurions got out on the break.
Guardado was fed most of his points by Matthew Correa, who added nine points and a game-high nine assists.
For Saugus coach Alfredo Manzano, nothing really changed heading into the fourth quarter down five points. Manzano’s team simply battled with more confidence.
“Mentally, they’re straight and they’re dialed in,” Manzano said. “There’s nothing at this point in the season that should get them down … You could tell we weren’t confident shooting it or laying it up. I told them, ‘We gotta go back with confidence. Get your feet dialed in, let it go and let it rip.’”
The fourth-quarter run made the biggest difference, but the Centurions began chipping away the Valley Christian lead in the third quarter, when Saugus started playing at its own pace.
“I think it started at halftime,” Manzano said. “We were playing at their pace, which we know is very methodical … It wasn’t anything crazy, like yelling at them. We just have to play the way we know how to play. We were just walking it up trying to set something up and that’s not our game. Like there’s a time and place for that but we have to play fast first.”
Defenders guard Myles Harvey could not be stopped in the first half. Harvey was relentless from behind the arc, where he drilled six 3-pointers.
Harvey fueled the offense early in the game as he was responsible for every Valley Christian point in the first quarter. The guard closed out his high school career with a game-high 22 points, six assists and three steals.
The Defenders added most of their points outside of the key. Saugus was patient and disciplined in the paint, leading to zero trips to the free throw line for Valley.
Defenders senior Jacob Bayla was a problem in the post for Saugus. Bayla, a Filipino Youth National teamer, fouled out in the fourth quarter and finished the day early with 12 points, eight boards, six assists and two blocks.
Burton provided some solid lockdown defense on Bayla through a little over three quarters.
“It feels great,” Burton said. “It just gives me motivation to do more to fight for this team and never let them down.”
Bayla’s absence in the post only led to more kerosine in the fiery Saugus run.
The Foothill League champs now advance to the second round of the postseason for the second time in three years.
Saugus will have another tall task on Friday, as the team hits the road to take on the Campbell Hall Vikings at 7 p.m.
“I’m excited. I want to go all the way and meet some rivals at the end,” Burton said. “We aren’t looking to end it on Friday, either. We’re trying to go all the way. All the way to the finals.”