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2019 VALLEY CHRISTIAN THANKSGIVING CLASSIC: PAYERO PACES VALLEY CHRISTIAN TO CHAMPIONSHIP OF OWN TOURNAMENT, DEFENDERS REMAIN UNBEATEN

The Valley Christian High boys basketball team celebrates after knocking off La Mirada High 67-49 last Saturday night to win the 2019 Valley Christian Thanksgiving Classic. Senior Malvin Payero was the tournament’s most valuable player after his 31-point performance against La Mirada. The Defenders improved to 7-0, the program’s second best start to a season in over a decade.

Editor’s Note: Sports editor Lorn Kopff will now be covering La Mirada sports, if you have any questions or comments you can email Loren at [email protected] or on DM on Twitter @LorenKopff.

By Loren Kopff

When the Valley Christian High boys basketball team won the CIF-Southern Section Division IV-A championship to cap off the 2007-2008 season, that team won its first five games and finished with a 27-4 mark. Already, this season’s team has eclipsed that great start, which was punctuated with a championship of its own Thanksgiving Classic.

Paced by 31 points, five rebounds and five assists from senior Malvin Payero, the Defenders broke open a close game in the second quarter and defeated La Mirada High 67-49 last Saturday night to improve to 7-0. It’s the best start by any V.C. team since the 2014-2015 unit won its first 11 games.

“I always felt we had a chance to win every single game we play,” said V.C. first-year head coach Josh Zumkehr. “I thought there were more games where it’s 50-50 and it could go the other way. But we played great from start to finish today. This is one of our tougher opponents. We’ve won games by double digits; we’ve won some close ones and then we just beat a really good La Mirada team. It’s exciting.”

“That’s really impressive,” Payero said. “It’s all about work and that’s it.”

The Matadores (3-2) led just once in the game, and that came after sophomore George Ochoa scored back to back baskets to make a 4-2 advantage less than two minutes into the game. V.C. would then go on a 12-2 run and never trailed the remainder of the game.

Even when junior Julian Briggs began the second quarter with a three-pointer to tie the game at 13-13, a basket from V.C. sophomore Micah Sybesma started a stretch of seven consecutive made baskets and just like that, the hosts had opened a 28-16 lead and continued to lead by double digits the remainder of the game.

Ochoa scored 11 of his team’s 13 points in the first quarter but was held to one basket in each of the next two quarters as V.C.’s defense keyed in on him and made someone else try to beat the Defenders. He ended with a team-high 19 points while Jalen Cole added 14 points.

“They have a phenomenal player, Ochoa, and so our message was let’s let them play one on five,” Zumkehr said. “We talked about we have to match up with them, but they have to guard us. So, we just kind of dialed in on him and we let [Cole] get going. He’s a terrific player, too. But we weren’t going to let [Ochoa] beat us.”

Meanwhile, Payero was nearly unstoppable, especially in the second and third quarters when he connected on eight of 11 field goals with half of them from beyond the arc. But it just wasn’t him as sophomore Nathan Medina had a perfect second quarter, hitting his only two field goals and all three of his free throws. Sybesma also was two of two from the field in the second quarter as V.C. led by 17 points with 96 seconds remaining in the first half after Medina drained a three-pointer.

“It feels great,” Payero said. “We didn’t play last year [in this tournament, and] I’m so proud of my teammates and my coaches. We worked really hard; we spent a lot of time working together and we won the championship. We deserved it.”

“What’s cool about Malvin is he also leads our team in assists and he’s one of our top rebounders,” Zumkehr said. “He just does a little bit of everything. When his jump shots are falling, there’s not too many players in Southern California who are better than him. And, his jump shot was definitely dropping tonight.”

In the second half, La Mirada tried to get back into the game. But the Defenders would counter every run with one of their own and led by as many as 19 points, which came 32 seconds into the final stanza on the fifth and final three-pointer from Payero.

Payero, who scored 111 points in the four games of the event, was named the tournament’s most valuable player while Medina (16 points, three rebounds vs. La Mirada) and junior Denzel Williams (nine points, six rebounds vs. La Mirada) made the All-Tournament team. Medina scored 88 points in the tournament.

“I’ve been really close to that program when coach [Bryce] Jones was the head coach,” Zumkehr said. “He’s a good friend of mine. Coach [Randy] Oronoz does a phenomenal job, so yeah, we’re very familiar with them. We know what they’re about. We know the players who have walked through that gym and certainly, we actually have a relationship. Malvin knows coach Oronoz pretty well. He was a little extra motivated today.”

“We just had to tough it out on defense,” Payero said. “We’re tough on defense and we play hard. We competed with them; they’re really competitive. They’re a really good team and they play hard.”

V.C. will travel to Firebaugh High tonight before competing in the St. Margaret’s tournament beginning on Wednesday while La Mirada began pool play action of the North Orange County Championships with a 63-51 win against Torrance High this past Monday. The Matadores would also face Lakewood High and Sonora High in pool play action.

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