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ORANGE HOLIDAY CLASSIC: Valley Christian boys basketball completes December on high note, ready for league

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


FULLERTON-The Valley Christian High boys basketball team still has a pair of games before its Olympic League slate begins, but the Crusaders are definitely battle tested and ready to go. Senior Jacob Green sank a pair of free throws with 2:16 remaining in overtime and they held up as V.C. edged Great Oak High 60-59 last Saturday afternoon for fifth place in the 53rd annual Orange Holiday Classic at Hope International University.

Green’s free throws were the final points by either team and the extra session was made possible because Great Oak’s Jalen Punsulan connected on a three-pointer with 3.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Overtime was nothing new for the Crusaders in this tournament as they knocked off Auburn (WA) High by six points the previous day.

“Two days in a row going overtime taxes your nerves a little bit,” said V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst. “But it was good for us, moving forward to play those types of games and different situations and things like that. We’re three for three in overtime games this year, so it seems to be a good formula for us. The guys didn’t blink; they just kept playing.”

V.C. held the lead throughout most of the game, leading by just two points after the first quarter but expanding the lead to eight points midway through the second quarter following a 6-0 run. A steal and basket from senior Julio Martinez with 65 seconds left in the first half gave the Crusaders a 25-20 lead. Then the team began the second half on fire as Martinez and senior Brandon Krikke sank consecutive three-pointers to give V.C. its biggest lead of the game.

But the Wolfpack chipped away at the lead with the help of Tej Johnson, who scored all of his 11 points in the third quarter, and C.J. Stevenson, who added another six points. After Johnson completed a three-point play to tie the game at 37-37 with 2:16 left, Branderhorst called a timeout to calm the team down a bit.

“We had to start guarding again,” Branderhorst said. “I thought we got a little bit sloppy for a couple of minutes there and they had guys driving all the way to the basket. [C.J. Stevenson] is super fast and he’s a good athlete. We were too busy guarding the arc to guard the drive.”

The game was tied at 43-43 going into the fourth quarter and V.C. seemed to have the momentum again, especially when Green’s three-pointer put the Crusaders up 50-45 with 5:51. But Great Oak rallied again and with 2:17 left in regulation, took its first lead of the game on a Stevenson basket.

Krikke and Green scored again over the next 36 seconds before Punsulan’s big shot. In fact, V.C. was held without a point in the final 1:17 of the first quarter, the final 65 seconds of the second quarter, the final 1:29 of the third quarter, the final 1:41 of the fourth quarter and the final 2:16 of overtime. Martinez and Krikke each led V.C. with 11 points while Green, who was named to the All-Tournament team, added 10 points with senior Trevor LaParl another nine points. Nine of the 10 players scored, marking the second time in the tournament and seventh time that has happened this season. Two other times have all 10 players scored in the same game.

“We might be short in terms of numbers with 10 bodies total, but we have 10 guys who are going to play,” Branderhorst said. “Most teams only play eight anyway, so I don’t consider that as any sort of handicap. Our guys who come off the bench, whoever it is on different days, have been effective all year for us. I felt like that was big for us in a day like today where you’re playing four games in four days.”

Krikke also led the team with six rebounds while LaParl as well as seniors Brandon Marion and Garret Williams all grabbed five rebounds. Marion led the Crusaders with four assists while Martinez had four steals.

“We’ve started different lineups most games this year and we don’t have a true sixth man,” Branderhorst said. “Everybody plays about every quarter and we just kind of decide who feels like they have it going on a little bit.”

The Crusaders improved to 11-4, just the fourth time in Branderhorst’s 12 seasons at V.C. that he has entered January with double digit wins, and just the second time since 2007. In 2014, the Crusaders bolted out to a 13-2 start before finishing 23-10.

“We’re playing well,” Branderhorst said. “We’re beating the teams I think we probably should beat. We’ve had a lot of competitive gams and we’ve won those. The teams we’ve lost to are quality opponents, so we’re happy with where we’re at right now. We’re just trying to get a little bit better all the time.”

V.C. will host Arroyo High tonight before visiting Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High on Wednesday. The league opener isn’t until Jan. 12 when the Crusaders host Village Christian High.

“It’s really nice for us right now,” Branderhorst said. “We have about a week off before we play again. It’s nice to be sitting on a ‘W’ and everybody is feeling good about things and kind of keep the confidence high. If you sit on a loss for a week, that’s no fun.”