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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4AA GIRLS BASKETBALL FINALS: Valley Christian unable to find its shooting touch, dominated by Village Christian

Valley Christian High freshman McKenna Bushong drives past Micaela Cacho-Negrete in last Friday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4AA championship game, won by Village Christian 49-29. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

SANTA ANA-For a brief moment late in the first half, it looked as if the Valley Christian High girls basketball team was going to be in a tight battle with Olympic League rival Village Christian High for the second half of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4AA championship game. Valley Christian had nearly erased a 13-point deficit, cutting it down to two points shortly before halftime.

But Valley Christian went into a shooting slump at the worst possible moment and Village Christian went the opposite direction, hitting on half of its fourth quarter shots, as the top ranked team in the division went on to a 49-29 victory over Valley Christian last Friday night at Godinez High. The 29 points marked a season low as Valley Christian was seeking its first divisional championship since 2000.

“It was brutal,” said Valley Christian head coach Dominic Freeman. “Watching it unfold was hard. I know the girls were a little tight with everything from trusting their teammates to…trying to throw a rock into the ocean, they still couldn’t hit it.”

Valley Christian, the third ranked team in the division, never led and only tied the game once, which came at 2-2 two minutes into the contest. After that, Village Christian went on a 14-1 run that extended into the second quarter. That’s when Valley Christian began to show some type of offensive life.

A steal and basket from senior Cheyenne McKinnie ended an 8-0 run with 4:52 remaining in the first half. Less than a minute later, freshman Kailani Kane drilled the first of her consecutive three-pointers to make it 21-17. With 1:16 left in the half, sophomore Ariel Gordon’s basket brought it down to a two-point contest.

“It was great,” Freeman said. “Kai came in and made some big shots. We were reaching there. I thought I had to suit up and get out there and help them. But we needed a really big basket to loosen the tension and we got that. The girls started to get a little comfortable about the game; we made [Village Christian] feel a little uncomfortable.”

But Village Christian’s Malie Yamada ended the half with a basket and began the second half with a three-pointer and it was all downhill from there for Valley Christian. After sophomore Calla Anderson scored on one of her four offensive rebounds, the team would get just one more field goal the remainder of the game. That didn’t come until Gordon’s offensive put back 21 seconds into the fourth quarter. Valley Christian would shoot an anemic eight percent from the field in the second half and at times, it appeared as if Valley Christian was rushing its shots instead of taking a few more seconds to get a good shot off.

“I totally agree,” Freeman said. “That’s something we were preaching in the timeout, preaching all week in practice. But the girls got a little bit out of sync again. When we played them last time, it was just the same thing where we started to not to trust the process and not trusting our teammates in what we were doing out there. They started to play a little hero ball.”

If the poor shooting wasn’t bad enough, Valley Christian had to deal with three other elements that played a large part in the win for the league champions. First, Alexis Mack was a terror on the glass, grabbing 19 of her team’s 44 rebounds with nine coming on the offensive end. Valley Christian would also be solid on the glass with 36 boards.

Then Valley Christian had to deal with the inside-outside threat of Leslie Aguilar (18 points) and Micaela Cacho-Negrete (13 points). Finally, Valley Christian turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 13 points.

“Those are the things we echoed all week about,” Freeman said. “We had to eliminated the second chance points, opportunities, especially with their big being out. For her to get 19 rebounds shows the fight and will of that team. Hat’s off to her; 19 rebounds is incredible.

“The 18 turnovers, a team that really didn’t press us full court but they did a great job in the half court with their match-up zone and caused us some confusion,” he continued. “It’s a learning experience for our girls who are extremely young. Hopefully this inspires them to continue to work and improve so that when we come back around this time next year that we capitalize on this opportunity.”

McKinnie led Valley Christian with 10 points and five steals while Anderson added half a dozen points and nine rebounds. Gordon also had seven boards as the team hosted Knight High this past Wednesday in the CIF Southern California Division IV state playoffs. Valley Christian is seeded fifth for the state playoffs.

“We told them that we’re so proud of them,” Freeman said. “I feel like we’re still going in the right direction with this program and we have plenty of ammunition. I told them we still have [the state] tournament and we have to practice on Monday. We can’t dwell on this too much.”

Valley Christian (22-9) would rebound to cruise past Knight 49-31 behind McKinnie’s 14 points and eight more from freshman Kira Smith.