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Valley Christian unable to make another comeback, bounced out by Crespi


By Loren Kopff

ENCINO-During its run through the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV-A playoffs, the Valley Christian boys basketball team had rallied on numerous occasions to stay alive until its semifinal loss to top-seeded and eventual champion Maranatha. Then the Crusaders found themselves in the same position at San Diego-based Mission Bay in the first round of the Southern California State Regionals, eventually coming back for a thrilling 66-58 double overtime victory.

But V.C.’s luck finally ran out last Saturday night in a 68-48 loss to Division IV-AA champion and third seeded Crespi. It’s the second-worst loss of the season for the Crusaders, who end their season at 23-10.

“You try to draw on those experiences,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst of the recent comebacks. “You say, ‘hey guys, we’ve been here before’ and those experiences are valuable. In a lot of ways, it’s just keeping the morale up and keeping the effort up. The belief was there and the effort was there. The execution was not.”

The 11th seeded Crusaders were down by five points midway through the opening quarter but came back and took a 14-13 lead with 1:54 left in the stanza on a basket from junior Ronald Massey. The Crusaders wouldn’t score for nearly the next three minutes but when they did, they went up again by a point following junior Jordan Mitchell’s only basket of the game.

The Crusaders seemed to be getting some momentum as sophomore Johnny Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound, then shot a three-pointer as he was falling to the ground. Shortly after Crespi called a timeout, Massey put V.C. up by three points with a dunk. But the Celts went on a 10-0 run and never looked back. The Crusaders got to within two points at the half, but Crespi began the second half on an 8-0 run and led by double digits for most of the second half.

“I thought the thing that cost us all night was turnovers,” Branderhorst said. “They put a lot of ball pressure on, they get up and they’re really physical and aggressive in the passing lanes. We didn’t handle that well.”

Compounding the turnover issue (21 in the game) was the fact that Crespi’s De’Anthony Melton was having his way throughout the entire game. Melton scored a game-high 27 points, was 10 of 17 from the field, had five steals, grabbed four rebounds and added three assists. Taj Regans added 14 points, including four three-pointers.

“Melton is really good and he proved that again tonight,” Branderhorst said. “We let him out in transition. A lot of his scoring opportunities came off of our bad offense. We’re turning [the ball over] and they’re going the other way too quickly tonight and those things will really cost you.”

Johnson led the Crusaders with 12 points while junior Vaj Rice added nine more. Massey and junior Robert Downs each scored seven points and Massey and Mitchell grabbed six and five rebounds respectively.

This was the third time since 2000 that a V.C. boys basketball team had won more than 20 games. The last time came during the 2007-2008 season when the Crusaders went 27-4 and won the Division IV-A championship. V.C. would then fall to San Joaquin Memorial in the first round of the regionals, thus making the Crespi game the farthest V.C. had ever gone in the postseason.

The Crusaders lose just one senior, Kyle Westra, and could return as many as 10 seniors and three juniors for next season.

“We’re proud of our team; we had a fantastic season,” Branderhorst said. “It’s exciting to have so many guys coming back. I’m not saying it’s the best team ever, but one of the best teams ever at Valley Christian.”