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Valley Christian hoopsters romp rival Ontario Christian

By Loren Kopff

It’s not a city rivalry, nor is it a league rivalry. In fact, the two schools involved are situated in different counties. But the annual Valley Christian-Ontario Christian rivalry is still big for the two schools, and the respective communities.

For basketball purposes, such a rivalry would expect relatively close games. But host V.C. dominated on the boys and girls side last Saturday, especially in the second half. The Crusader boys led by six points at halftime but came out blazing in the third quarter and went on to a 61-32 victory. It was V.C.’s 11th win over the Knights in the past 15 meetings including a playoff encounter in 2012. Since 1998, V.C. has lost one regular season home game to the Knights and the 29-point victory is the biggest of those 11 wins.

“The cool thing about Ontario Christian-Valley Christian is history,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “A lot of people who founded Ontario Christian were the dairy farmers who moved away from Valley Christian. It’s a rivalry to me when it’s people you know really well. I have a lot of friends at Ontario Christian. My wife taught at Ontario Christian for awhile. We lived in that community. The people you know the best you want to beat the most.”

The Knights led throughout most of the first quarter before V.C. scored six straight points, including an offensive board and basket from junior forward Ronald Massey within the first minute of the second quarter which tied the game at 11-11. But just past the midway point of the stanza, sophomore forward Aaron Purnell completed a three-point play that gave the Crusaders a 17-14 lead and they never trailed again.

In fact, V.C. opened the second half on an 11-0 run highlighted by a steal from sophomore guard Johnny Johnson, who passed the ball while still on the ground to junior forward Vaj Rice who ended the play with a thunderous two-hand dunk. After O.C.’s Ernest Gustafson scored his team’s first points of the half, the hosts went on an 8-0 run to lead 46-23.

V.C. limited the Knights to one field goal in 14 attempts in the third quarter and had four steals in the stanza. The Crusaders then held the Knights to seven points in the fourth quarter with three more steals.

“It’s about our depth,” Branderhorst said. “We saw that a couple of nights ago where we would bring in lots of fresh bodies and they’re highly energized to start a game. And as they start to wear out, we just keep bringing fresh upon fresh upon fresh [bodies]. When teams get tired, they start making mistakes and they miss shots they normally make and they turn the ball over.”

Rice led V.C. with 11 points and 13 rebounds while junior guard Stedmon Bryant added 10 points. Johnson and Massey each chipped in with eight points with Johnson getting six rebounds and four steals.

Including an 85-64 win at Fairmont Prep this past Tuesday behind 20 points from Rice and 16 more from Johnson, the Crusaders improved to 15-4 and have won five of the last six games after a brief three-game skid following a 10-0 start. V.C. got back into Olympic League action on Jan. 15 with a road game at Heritage Christian and will host Village Christian on Tuesday.

“Starting Thursday night, we had a really solid performance against Whittier Christian here,” Branderhorst said. “Then tonight after a slow start, we looked pretty solid again.”

Earlier, the V.C. girls didn’t have to wait until the third quarter to put away the Knights because it had done that in the second quarter. The Lady Crusaders outscored O.C. 18-5 in the second quarter to lead by 20 at the half and eventually go on to rout their rivals 60-18. Including a 44-42 win over Webb this past Tuesday, the Lady Crusaders improved to 10-8. This was the first V.C.-O.C. experience for first-year head coach Dominic Freeman.

“My girls informed me of how important it was on top of the school atmosphere,” he said. “I would just hear about Ontario [Christian] and how we want to do well, especially with the way we played against Whittier Christian the other week. It feels good. I enjoyed it, my girls thrive off of it and it showed tonight with their enthusiasm.”

V.C. had a strong presence on the glass early on as senior center Cherilyn De Jong had five rebounds in the first quarter and senior guard Kate Vande Vegte another three. But it was Vande Vegte’s sharp shooting that got the Lady Crusaders going. Coming off the bench, she nailed down three three-pointers in the first quarter and added two more in the third quarter to finish with a game-high 15 points.

Sophomore guard Cheyenne McKinnie, a transfer from Long Beach Jordan in her third game of the season, finished with a dozen points, four steals, three assists and three rebounds.

“When we get Kate and Cheyenne going at the same time, we can be really good,” Freeman said. “Kate has been sick this whole week and…we were just trying to look after her and monitor her minutes and we were going to throw her in today to see how it would look. She looked like the old Kate. So, we’re going to work on getting Kate back in the starting lineup with Cheyenne and hopefully that opens up more opportunities not only for them but for other girls on our team.”

But the story of the game was V.C.’s defense, which held the Knights to two field goals in the second half and allowed them to take just 10 shots from the field. The 18 points given up were the fewest against O.C. since 2008 when the Lady Crusaders easily won 54-9.

The victory was a far cry from earlier in the day when the Lady Crusaders were slammed by Los Alamitos 60-17 in a Long Beach City College Showcase game.

“We had a game earlier today and we took it on the chin pretty good,” Freeman said. “I felt like we were the better team. I thought our enthusiasm and energy wasn’t there. We played with a chip on our shoulder in [this] game and unfortunately it happened to be Ontario [Christian] in a way. We showcased what we should be doing night in and night out.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster because we just came off an emotional win versus Whittier [Christian],” Freeman later added. “We played a team that the girls didn’t really have a true idea [of] except for the coaching staff. We didn’t come with the passion and desire that we’re looking for.”

Senior center Alex Fenderson and junior guard Katy Feller each added 10 points with Fenderson grabbing eight rebounds and Feller having four steals.