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Valley Christian rallies in third quarter, pulls away from St. Bonaventure

CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

By Loren Kopff

One could say that it was Valley Christian junior guard Stedmon Bryant’s three-point play with 31.7 seconds left in the first half that ignited his team’s comeback against St. Bonaventure in a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV-A second round game. Or maybe it was the 8-0 run in the first 76 seconds of the second half that gave the host Crusaders the lead for good.

Either way, fifth-seeded V.C. escaped being upset by the 12th-seeded Seraphs 50-41 last Saturday night. Coupled with a thrilling come from behind 50-47 overtime road win at Paraclete this past Tuesday, the Crusaders move on to tonight’s semifinal tilt against Olympic League rival and top-seeded Maranatha.

V.C. which shot 29 percent from the field in the first half, was down 27-19 before Bryant’s basket and free throw ended the first half scoring. The play was set up by a steal and assist from junior forward Vaj Rice. Then Rice began the second half with a basket, followed by three-pointers from senior guard Kyle Westra and junior guard Jordan Mitchell, giving the hosts a 30-27 lead.

“We were grinding in the first half,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “We didn’t have a whole lot of flow or rhythm. Shots weren’t falling. But we had a couple of plays called out of halftime, executed and got easy scores. We got a couple of three’s to go and that just totally changed the momentum for us.”

The Crusaders (22-8) outscored St. Bonaventure 13-5 in the third quarter, then came out blazing in the fourth quarter, missing on just two of seven shots from the field. Within the first 3:08 of the final stanza, V.C. went on a 10-2 run to lead by 10 and virtually put the game away.

Bryant, who missed the first 11 games of the season, led everyone with a season-high 18 points, 11 in just the second quarter alone, while Rice added 15 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. All but four of his rebounds came in the first half with seven coming in the first quarter.

“Of all of the things you can emphasize for us that’s always top priority, it’s defensive rebounding [and] trying to hold teams to one shot,” Branderhorst said. “We did a pretty good job of that overall tonight. In the first half, I thought Stedmon kept us in the game. He kept us afloat. When we were ready to sink, and we were playing some below par basketball, he kept us in the game.”

Mitchell added six points and four rebounds but scored 10 points at Paraclete, as did Bryant and sophomore forward Aaron Purnell. Rice poured in 16 points as the Crusaders, with their balanced lineup, advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2008 when they brought home the Division IV-A championship. V.C. lost to Maranatha 67-61 on Jan. 22 on the road and 82-70 at home on Feb. 6.

“That’s what we pride ourselves in,” Branderhorst said of his balanced attack. “We feel like we have a lot of depth and a lot of guys who can make plays. That’s big for us.”

In other boys basketball action, Gahr is also advancing to a semifinal game tonight after cruising past Los Altos 69-42 this past Tuesday night in a Division III-AA quarterfinal game. The second-seeded Gladiators (23-6) will visit third-seeded Bonita.

Cerritos saw its season come to an end following a 68-47 loss to seventh-seeded Hart this past Tuesday night in a Division II-A second round game. The 10th-seeded Dons, who finished in second place in the Suburban League, conclude their season at 17-12.

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