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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
As the first round of Olympic League play came to an end, the Valley Christian High boys basketball team was hoping to even its league mark and stay two games out of first place. But the shorthanded Crusaders had trouble finding their shooting touch and fell to visiting Maranatha High 58-45 last Friday night.
The Crusaders, ranked sixth in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV-A coaches poll, was held to a season-low in points scored and shot 27 percent from the field, their lowest of the season.
“I thought we executed really well early, moved the basketball with extra passes and finished plays,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “About midway through the first quarter, I thought we kind of got a little bit too hyper, a little bit too excited and we started turning the ball over. That’s when our momentum changed on us.”
V.C. (12-11 overall, 1-3 in league) held a 9-2 lead almost midway through the opening stanza with senior Ronald Massey scoring six points. Then 44 seconds into the second quarter, senior Robert Downs’ basket put the hosts up 11-6, ending a stretch of 5:22 without a field goal. But that would be the last field goal for the next 3:52 and when that streak ended, the Minutemen, ranked second in the division but at 7-9 prior to the contest, had a 21-14 lead. The Crusaders would also have a stretch in the fourth quarter of almost five minutes without a field goal. During that time, Maranatha went on a 10-0 run.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of not executing well and sometimes you just don’t make shots,” Branderhorst said. “Everybody goes in droughts like that. We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. I don’t remember us hitting many three’s. I know [senior] Vaj [Rice] hit a couple, but we need to stretch the floor a little bit better and knock down perimeter jumpers.”
Maranatha began to make its comeback early in the second quarter with the help of Terrance Lang and Sean Romero, who combined 17 of the team’s 22 points in the stanza. A three-pointer from Romero plus a Lang basket 26 seconds later tied the contest at 11-11 with 6:23 left in the half. Those two would repeat the process less than a minute later and Romero’s third perimeter basket with 83 seconds left in the half put the Minutemen up 28-20 at the break. Those two would each score 14 points by game’s end.
“He’s a good shooter and we knew that,” Branderhorst said of Romero. “They did a good job of finding him and he stayed patient and made sure he got the right shots.”
V.C. thought it was beginning to find some momentum early in the third quarter and trailed by four points (32-28) following an offensive rebound and basket from Massey. A three-pointer from Rice with 2:19 left in the quarter made it a 36-31 affair and the Crusaders still trailed by five points with 9:12 left to play. But V.C. wouldn’t connect on another field goal until 4:20 remained in the game when Massey completed a three-point play.
Massey led the Crusaders with 12 points and nine rebounds while senior Stedmon Bryant added 10 points. Rice pitched in with nine points and six rebounds as the team is coping with injuries to key players. V.C. was without the services of juniors Johnny Johnson and Aaron Purnell, two of the top three-point shooters. Branderhorst said he has never had a stretch of altered lineups and missing personnel.
The Crusaders, though, bounced back and knocked off Saddleback Valley Christian High 61-53 last Saturday night in the Brethren Christian Small Schools Showcase as Downs had 15 points and Bryant another 14 points. V.C. now has four games remaining in the regular season with the next two on the road beginning with Heritage Christian High tonight, the only game on the docket until a rematch with Maranatha on Feb. 5.
“Our league is very good and we knew that going in,” Branderhorst said. “Every game in our league seems to be a dog fight between all five teams. Everybody is competing at a high level. Our big thing is we have to get healthy.”
Prior to the boys game, the Lady Crusaders continued its turnaround season with a convincing 49-35 victory to move to 15-7 overall and 3-1 in the circuit. Last season, the Lady Crusaders went 12-14 overall, won two of eight league games and missed the postseason. This is the best mark since going 19-11 in the 2010-2011 season.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us,” said V.C. head coach Dominic Freeman. “But it’s been a process, grinding it out every day and the girls have been receptive to the grind. It’s really on the girls, how hard they’ve worked and how far they’ve come along.”
V.C. was in complete control from the opening tip and never trailed, although the game was tied 4-4 with 3:01 left in the first quarter. After that, the hosts went on a 15-5 run with freshman Ariel Gordon doing most of the damage. She scored six points and pulled down six rebounds in the quarter. Gordon would lead the team with 16 points, one off of her career-high, and grab 11 rebounds.
“Ariel has grown up right before our eyes,” Freeman said. “And I would say Ariel has been just a stud in practice. On and off the court, her maturity has really taken off and she’s really bought in to what we’re trying to do here. We feel like we really have a special player on hands. We’re very fortunate.”
V.C. was leading 23-14 at the half but put the game away when it began the second half on a 9-0 run as Gordon scored the first eight points. Although the Lady Crusaders were held without a field goal for nearly the entire fourth quarter, they did build a 24-point lead with 4:54 left in the game.
Seniors Elexis Carr and Katy Feller each scored eight points while junior Cheyenne McKinnie and freshman Calla Anderson both grabbed seven rebounds. The Lady Crusaders will also visit Heritage Christian tonight, hoping to avenge a 70-62 loss on Jan. 15.
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