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By Loren Kopff
Valley Christian senior guard D.J. Ahana was nearly a one-man show this past Monday night against Laguna Hills as his team struggled throughout most of the first half. But his two baskets in a 20 second span at the end of the first half ignited a 15-0 run and the Crusaders emerged with an impressive 60-54 victory over the Hawks.
V.C. turned a 25-18 deficit with 3:08 left in the first half into a 33-25 lead two and a half minutes into the third quarter and never looked back.
“We had a real good run, especially early in the third quarter to turn things around,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “[Senior guard] Dylan [Koolmees] had a couple of nice baskets, one in transition and then a three-pointer on the left wing. I thought that ignited us to get us going.”
During that run, Koolmees scored all seven of his points while junior forward Brian Bischoff and Ahana each added four points. Of the 22 points the Crusaders scored in the first half, Ahana scored 15 points and assisted on a Bischoff basket. While he was scoring, Bischoff was pulling down rebound after rebound and had 11 of his 13 boards before halftime. The Crusaders as a team had 21 rebounds in the first half.
After taking 28 shots from the field and connecting on eight of them in the first half, V.C. took only 11 in the second half but was very effective, missing just twice. While this was going on, the defense wouldn’t let the Hawks get their deficit to less than five points the remainder of the game.
“Considering on the year we’re a mid-30’s field goal percentage shooting team, I would say that surprised me a little bit,” Branderhorst said. “But the thing about it is when they’re running all of these presses and traps, the shots you’re getting are high percentage because they’re overplaying for steals and you’re going to get a lot of lay-ups.”
After being held to two free throws in the third quarter, Ahana heated up in the final eight minutes and added 11 points to his team and career-high 28 points in the final stanza. Ahana was eight of 15 from the field, a perfect 10 of 10 from the charity stripe and has now scored in double figures in five straight games. He also had six rebounds
“It’s just about being aggressive,” Branderhorst said. “This is D.J.’s first year on varsity, so you can see the improvement. Once he gets that game confidence and aggressiveness, the sky’s the limit for him. He played a great game today.”
Bischoff added 11 points while Koolmees and freshman forward Vaj Rice each pitched in with seven points. The win was the fourth straight for the Crusaders as they evened their record to 11-11. It’s the first time since a Dec. 15 win over Buena Park that V.C. has been .500. The team gets back into Olympic League action tonight at Village Christian, then travels to Maranatha on Thursday. V.C. has only one more home game left in the regular season, a Feb. 5 meeting with Heritage Christian.
“It’s awfully nice to get on a win streak, especially a couple in rival games,” Branderhorst said. “Those are always emotional games, Friday against Whittier Christian and Saturday against Ontario Christian. Throw in the Heritage Christian game-we had a 22-point comeback win. It’s kind of been an emotional push here, so I’m really proud of the guys to come back with energy today, in a non league game on a holiday when you’re kind of out of rhythm.”
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