By Loren Kopff
FULLERTON-Through the first month of the regular season that saw the Valley Christian High boys basketball team play 15 games, the team was stricken with hard luck losses that could have gone the other way. The Crusaders, who had fallen in overtime and double overtime on Dec. 17 and 18 in the North Orange County Tournament, began the Orange Holiday Classic with buzzer beater losses to La Mirada High (65-62) and Servite High (53-52).
But V.C. can take solace in the fact that it ended 2015 with two straight double digit victories, including a 74-58 decision over Phoenix-based Thunderbird High this past Wednesday at Hope International University. The win comes on the heels of a 74-59 win over Crenshaw High this past Tuesday, which ended a six-game losing streak.
“It’s nice to end on a positive note,” said. V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “We get a couple of W’s under our belt and get some momentum turned back the right way and put a couple in that ‘W’ column. It’s also nice to get a lot of guys a lot of action.
“It’s been the roughest month I’ve ever had,” he continued. “With the amount of injuries and the heartbreak that we’ve faced in terms of close losses…it’s somewhat unprecedented. But we’re playing very good teams. I definitely feel like we’re heads and shoulders above where we were a week ago, better than where we were two weeks ago and certainly better than where we were Dec. 1. Improving is the goal and we’re getting there.”
The Crusaders (7-8 overall) came out blazing against the Chiefs, gaining a 14-6 lead before Thunderbird ended the quarter on an 8-0 streak. V.C. regained the lead early in the second quarter and went up 26-20 after junior Ryan Porter had a steal, passed to junior Aaron Purnell who then gave it back to Porter who drained the first of his two three-pointers in the game. The Chiefs later tied the game at 31-31 on a three-pointer from Dakota Bermudez before a downtown shot from senior Stedman Bryant put the Crusaders in front for good.
Bryant was just heating up as he scored 13 of his career-high 19 points in the first half, missing three shots from the field with two rebounds and two assists. Also having a good first half was senior Vaj Rice, who had 10 of his 14 points before the intermission while grabbing four rebounds. Rice was also named to the all-tournament team and needs 12 points for 1,000 in his high school career.
In the second half, Purnell stepped up even more and scored seven points on three of six shooting in the third quarter as the Crusaders increased their lead to 11 points with 1:05 left in the stanza. Purnell added four more points in the final quarter to finish with a career-high 20 points.
“I hardly noticed because anything they do isn’t a real surprise to me because we see those guys do that on a day in, day out basis in practice and games,” Branderhorst said of Bryant and Purnell. “And neither of them forced anything to make that happen either. It was a pretty quiet 20 and 19 for those guys.”
Against La Mirada, V.C. held a 20-10 advantage 68 seconds into the second quarter before the Matadores closed the gap to trail by a point at the break. The Crusaders would score five straight points at the end of the game to force a 62-62 tie before Ian Carter took a pass from Rendwick Helaire and drained a three-pointer as time expired. Rice had 24 points and nine rebounds in the game.
Bryant and Purnell scored 14 and 12 points respectively against Servite and while Rice (19 points) was one of four players to score in double figures against Crenshaw. V.C. will host Paramount High on Tuesday. Of the eight losses, one has been by a point, two have been by two points, one by three points, two by four points and one by five points.
“No one wins championships in December but the goal is to get better,” Branderhorst said. “And we knew getting into these tournaments that we’re going to face tough teams. That’s why we got into them. We’ve seen a little bit of everything at this point.”
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