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Valley Christian girls finish strong for one-point overtime victory

By Loren Kopff

LA HABRA-It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but for Ally Wade, she will block out all of the negatives for a moment and take her Valley Christian girls basketball team’s 10th victory of the season. The second-year head coach and former Long Beach State University standout witnessed her team rally from eight points down to begin the fourth quarter and nip Whittier Christian 41-40 in overtime last Friday night on the road.
The Lady Crusaders went 1-25 last season in Wade’s rookie campaign. But after the victory over the Heralds, V.C. improved to 10-12 overall and 3-1 in the Olympic League. In addition, V.C. has won eight of its past 13 games.
“I don’t even think I can put it into words,” Wade said. “I’m sitting here trying to find a word for it. The one word that just comes to my mind is heart. I just want the girls and myself to enjoy it because I know thinking back, I can just run through my mind the turnovers, the [lack of] offensive rebounds and the free throws missed.”
Although the Lady Crusaders shot 32 percent from the field and missed 21 free throws, their defense came through in the fourth quarter and in overtime. It all started when senior Makenna Mageo hit a three-pointer in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. It would be her only points of the stanza, although she did grab four rebounds, have an assist and a steal in the final eight minutes of regulation.
With 3:26 left in regulation, Mageo assisted on junior Cherilyn DeJong’s lone field goal of the game, which tied the score at 33-33. Almost a minute later, the Lady Crusaders took the lead on senior Amanda Chamberlain’s bucket. DeJong had filled in nicely for Chamberlain, who was plagued with foul trouble in the first quarter.
“Cherilyn did a fantastic job for us tonight,” Wade said. “She came in and accepted her role when Amanda was coming back [for her senior season]. She just did a fantastic job on Sydney Lopez. She was the key person we needed to stop tonight and she came in and defended well and had a few buckets for us. She was just strong.”
Lopez scored 17 of Whittier Christian’s 30 points through the first three quarters but was held to four points the rest of the way and fouled out late in the game. Meanwhile, it still wasn’t looking good for V.C. in overtime, falling down by three points with 2:46 left to play. But Mageo’s three-point play with 45.6 seconds remaining put her team up by one and her free throw with 28 seconds left was the game-winner.
The game was sealed when Hannah Yoshihara missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer following a Whittier Christian timeout with 5.9 seconds left to play. Although she missed five free throws in the extra session, senior Amber Binford had a crucial steal late in overtime and led the team with seven steals.
“We played a lot of 13 defense tonight, but she’s the top of it,” Wade said of Binford. “She’s our point guard and she’s the top of every defense we run. I told her a long time ago, as she goes, we go. She starts the tempo right away as they’re bringing the ball to us. Her defense was key to us winning.”
V.C. had trailed throughout most of the first half but never by more than four points. A three-pointer by Mageo put the visitors up by three at halftime and another one from junior Hailey Garcia opened the second half scoring. But Whittier Christian went on a 16-2 run the remainder of the third quarter to put the Lady Crusaders in a hole.
“We need to be able to take care of the ball,” Wade said. “We stopped doing what was working. We kind of relaxed. We were playing not to lose instead of, hey. We can beat this team.”
Mageo led V.C. with 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and had five thefts while Chamberlain added 11 points and eight boards as the team already has more victories than the previous two seasons combined. The Lady Crusaders are hoping to end a two-season playoff drought.
“I had a lot of faith in our girls,” Wade said. “Just seeing the huge strides we’ve taken from last year to this year. They just have to have confidence in themselves. That’s the number one thing. I hope this game is the turn of the page for us to realize that we can beat anyone.”
Following the game, the V.C. boys went in an offensive slump in the second half and what was a close game through three quarters turned into a 53-33 Whittier Christian rout. The Crusaders dropped to 9-13 overall, 1-3 in league.
“The game plan didn’t change much,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “All night long we didn’t do a good job on the glass. We gave them easy opportunities. Offensively, we were pretty anemic tonight and when you put a lot of pressure on your defense, after a while it just can’t hold up anymore. We just weren’t very good.”
V.C. trailed 24-19 at the half and was still within striking range heading into the fourth quarter (32-26). But with 6:41 left in the game, sophomore Vaj Rice received a technical foul and Kaipo Villeza converted on both free throws, then scored a basket on the ensuing possession. From there, Whittier Christian went on a 12-5 run to go up by 20 points with 1:58 remaining in the game.
Sophomore Stedman Bryant, hampered with an injury from earlier in the week, led the Crusaders with 10 points while Rice added half a dozen points and 12 rebounds. A staggering stat for the V.C. was in the rebounding department where the team pulled down 23 for the game, 17 on the defensive end.
“That’s not going to cut it,” Branderhorst said. “We gave them too many second shots. Sometimes the rebounding total is a little bit deceptive depending on the pace of the game. But they just got too many second shots and that’s the number I’m worried about especially.”
Both V.C. teams will host Maranatha tonight and Village Christian on Tuesday.