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OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASKETBALL: Valley Christian boys rally from huge deficit but fall short against Village Christian

By Loren Kopff

It was looking pretty bleak for the Valley Christian boys basketball team early in the second quarter against Village Christian this past Tuesday night. Valley Christian was trailing the ninth-ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division I-AA poll by 17 points.

But, three of Village Christian’s starters all picked up their third personal foul before halftime and were relegated to becoming cheerleaders for the final half of the second quarter. That’s when Valley Christian made a courageous rally, which came up short in the end, 69-67. Valley Christian, which didn’t take its first lead until the fourth quarter even led by three points with 1:49 left to play. But Village Christian went on an 8-3 run to thwart any upset bid.

“You have two good teams and both teams are going to make runs,” said Valley Christian head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “We talked about that, even yesterday. There are going to be moments of adversity and things and you have to bounce back from those things. When you have a lot of guys who can make plays, there are going to be momentum swings.”

Valley Christian trailed by six points after the first quarter but also missed half a dozen free throws, which would be a major theme in the game. Village Christian then reeled off the first nine points of the second quarter to lead 30-15. But the fouls were beginning to pile up for University of Southern California-signee Bennie Boatwright (game-high 20 points), Clifton Powell (14 points in the first quarter) and Kahlil Simplis (11 points).

Valley Christian would go on a 17-0 run with those three on the bench and just like that, the game was tied at 34-34 after junior power forward Vaj Rice connected on a free throw with 20.3 seconds left in the first half.

But Village Christian opened the second half on an 8-0 run and led by half a dozen points before the hosts closed out the final 1:47 of the third quarter with a nifty 9-3 run.

“The thing is, they don’t drop off a lot in talent,” Branderhorst said of Village Christian. “So, they were still coming. Certainly that was an important part in the game. It’s unfortunate we could never get any of those guys on the bench for the fifth foul. But they play a lot of zone and try to hide those guys. And so it’s hard to really pick on those matchups.”

In this game of runs, it was Valley Christian’s turn to make another one early in the fourth quarter and when Rice scored with 5:42 left in the contest, he had given his team its first lead at 55-53. That was followed by an offensive rebound and basket from junior power forward Ronald Massey, who was fouled with 5:01 left. Although he missed the free throw, a technical foul was called on Chris Love and junior point guard Stedman Bryant made both free throws. Rice ended the scoring spree with another basket to put Valley Christian up 61-53 with 4:52 remaining.

But Valley Christian went cold from the field the remainder of the game, missing its next four shots before sophomore forward Aaron Purnell drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Rice came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points and grab seven rebounds, five on the offensive side. Bryant added 15 points while Purnell pitched in with 11 points. But Valley Christian was 18 of 31 from the charity stripe while the visitors from Sun Valley missed four free throws.

“It’s a big deal; it’s a really big deal,” Branderhorst said. “We just try to tell the guys to relax and knock them down. But certainly we left a lot of points out on the free throw line tonight and we missed a couple of bunnies around the rim. We just have to keep getting better.”

Valley Christian, ranked fourth in Division IV-A with Don Bosco Tech, dropped to 16-5 overall and 2-1 in the Olympic League. It was also Valley Christian’s seventh straight loss to Village Christian. Valley Christian will visit Maranatha today to wrap up the first round of league play, then face Saddleback Valley Christian late Saturday night in the Brethren Christian Showcase.

“We still believe that playing well wins and playing well matters,” Branderhorst said. “It’s not about adding up your talent. If that was the case, we wouldn’t even play the game. It’s a matter of doing things well and execution and attention to detail and effort and togetherness. We showed a lot of that tonight. We just have to be a little bit better.”

Earlier, the Valley Christian girls found themselves playing catch-up for most of its game but faded really fast in the fourth quarter and lost to Village Christian 41-31. The setback puts Valley Christian, which has now lost two in a row, at 10-10 overall, 1-2 in league.

After Village Christian opened the game with five points, senior Kate Vande Vegte’s three-pointer late in the opening stanza tied the game at 5-5. Valley Christian would lead just twice, the second coming half a minute into the second quarter on a three-pointer from junior Katy Feller.

That would be one of three field goals for Valley Christian in the second quarter with the last one being a three-pointer from junior Elexis Carr with 1:12 remaining before halftime. It wouldn’t get much better in the third quarter as Valley Christian could only muster a two-pointer from sophomore Cheyenne McKinnie and another trifecta from Vande Vegte, who paced the hosts with eight points. Feller added seven points with six rebounds while senior Alex Fenderson grabbed seven boards and scored half a dozen points.

Valley Christian will face St. Margaret’s Saturday morning in the Brethren Christian