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VALLEY CHRISTIAN GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Valley Christian fights through injuries to put away Irvine for fifth place at own tournament

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


It’s been a rough start of the season for the Valley Christian High girls basketball team. After the Lady Crusaders advanced to last season’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4AA finals, head coach Dominic Freeman has seen his team stumble to a 3-5 start as they hosted Irvine High last Saturday in the fifth place game of the 41st annual V.C. Tournament.

The Lady Crusaders, who led by three points after the first period, completely dominated the second quarter and routed the Vaqueros 54-42.

“At this point we’ll take anything right now,” Freeman said. “It’s been a slow start and obviously we’ve had some injuries, and that hasn’t helped. But it’s also been an opportunity for us to see what else we have. It’s [also] forced other girls to step up. I’ll take a fifth place finish.”

Irvine held a slim 7-6 lead just past the midway point of the first quarter when junior Kiara Paul hit a three-pointer, followed by a two-pointer in a span of 55 seconds. Then with 1:26 left in the stanza, junior Calla Anderson scored off one of her three steals. Irvine would cut its deficit to a point, but with 11.5 seconds remaining, sophomore Kira Smith scored what would be the beginning of a 6-0 run to jump start V.C.

The Vaqueros tried to come back, trailing by three midway through the second quarter. But that was as close as they would get as V.C. went on an 11-0 run to end the half, even though the only field goals in that stretch came from Smith.

Even though the Lady Crusaders were handling Irvine, the shooting from the field began to go south in the second half. After connecting on 10 field goals in the first half, the hosts got half of that in the second half. But, the scoring continued because V.C. was 20 of 31 from the line, including 13 made charity shots in the second half.

“The funny thing is yesterday, we struggled [at the line],” Freeman said. “I think we were eight for 45 from the free throw line last night. If we eliminate some of the free throws, we would have put Peninsula away like we have earlier in the year. Tonight, we were able to do that and make free throws.”

The Lady Crusaders led by 16 points through three quarters but had a stretch of six and a half minutes in the second half without a field goal. During that time, the team hit eight of 12 free throws and outscored Irvine by four points. Smith led everyone with 18 points and had three of the team’s 11 steals while Anderson poured in a dozen points with 13 rebounds, eight under V.C.’s own basket.

“She’s been a stud,” Freeman said. “Her and Kira, they really are going to be our focal point this year. We tell her, along with Kira, ‘you guys are really unguardable if you really figure it out’. Calla has really just continued to develop and she’s maturing. We’ve asked a lot out of her, especially with Ariel being down.”

V.C.’s slow start can be partly attributed to injuries to a couple of key players. Senior Jai’lynn Parham had a concussion during a practice earlier in the season and just returned to game action on Dec. 12 against Fountain Valley High. Junior Ariel Gordon tweaked her right ankle during a lay-up earlier last week and didn’t play the final two games.

“It’s been an adjustment trying to figure who can replace the productivity,” Freeman said. “With Cheyenne [McKinnie] being one of our leading scorers and Sahana [Oglesby] was one of our grittiest players and leaders, two of our captains…we’ve been trying to figure out who’s going to step up in those roles? Who’s going to be our alpha dog? Who’s going to step up and be one of our two leaders? That’s been an adjustment since summer and fall. I’ll take a slow start and a strong finish.”

V.C. lost to San Clemente High 43-24 last Tuesday to kick off the tournament followed by a 53-39 win over Fountain Valley before losing to Peninsula High 50-48 last Friday. The Lady Crusaders hosted South Hills High on Dec. 21 and will entertain Lakewood High tonight before facing Cypress High on Tuesday to begin the Larry Doyle/Dan Wiley O.C. Tournament.

Whitney High was also participating in the V.C. Tournament and fell to JSerra High 48-28 last Saturday evening for the championship. The Lady Wildcats, who dropped to 7-6 on the season, and will be off until next month, also defeated Westminster High 59-46, lost to Long Beach Wilson High 48-41 and knocked off Kennedy High 51-50 last Friday.