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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Valley Christian going through the motions with injury-depleted squad

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


LONG BEACH-Heading into the final week of the regular season, no one expected the Valley Christian High girls basketball team to be where it currently sits. The defending California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4AA finalists, who went 22-10 last season, had just seven wins and little to no margin for error if it wanted to get back to the playoffs.

The Lady Crusaders have been decimated with one injury after another and when they visited St. Anthony High last Thursday, they were down to seven healthy players. Suffice to say, it was too much for V.C. to recover from as it was blasted by the Saints 66-29. Coupled with a 60-42 loss to Maranatha High the next night, the Lady Crusaders entered this past week at 7-16 overall, 2-4 in the Olympic League and in fourth place.

“So far this year, health has been one of our biggest challenges,” said V.C. head coach Dominic Freeman. I remember around Christmas we played with only five players. So, having only seven is actually pretty good.”

V.C. missed its first five shots of the game and didn’t score until 3:39 remained in the opening stanza. The visitors got to within four points with 21.5 seconds left in the first quarter before St. Anthony went on a 14-2 run over the next four minutes to put the game away. V.C. scored on consecutive baskets just twice in the game, and both came in the final 3:18 of the first half.

Three-pointers from sophomore McKenna Bushong and junior Calla Anderson made it a 26-14 game. Then in the final 34.4 seconds of the half, senior Jenelle Baysic scored back to back field goals to make the halftime score 32-18.

The lack of depth was hurting V.C.’s shooting as the Lady Crusaders connected on 21 percent of their shots in the game with seven baskets coming before halftime.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating to be 12 of 57 from the field, but we were able to take good shots and unfortunately, they all didn’t fall [tonight],” Freeman said. “We just need to get back into the lab and work hard and continue to get better.”

It went from bad to worse in the second half as the Lady Crusaders scored just two baskets in the third quarter and three more in the fourth for a total of 11 points. Freeman said that going into halftime, he felt his team still had a chance despite the 14-point deficit. But when he noticed that the shots still weren’t falling in the third quarter and V.C. couldn’t cut into St. Anthony’s lead, he knew he had to pull his starters so that they could rest for the Maranatha game.

Anderson led the Lady Crusaders with 11 points while Bushong added six points. Junior Ariel Gordon grabbed seven of her team’s 26 rebounds while junior Kiara Paul added another six boards.

V.C. had lost eight of its last 10 games entering the last week of the regular season after beginning the season at 4-5. Only Anderson, Bushong and freshman Jordan Ebalo, up until the St. Anthony game, had been the constant mainstays in the lineup on a game by game basis. But Freeman said that everyone has been banged up at one point or another.

“Yes, it has been a roller coaster season but in terms of outlook, we have really been able to see the versatility of the team,” Freeman said. “Having girls step up and play positions they normally wouldn’t or have more playing time has really shown how the girls can adapt when needed.

The Lady Crusaders ended the regular season with a pair of home games, Whittier Christian High this past Tuesday and last place Heritage Christian on Feb. 8. V.C. needed to win both games and have Maranatha lose to Heritage Christian and league-leading Village Christian High in order to claim third place and the final automatic playoff berth. Valley Christian lost by nine points to Whittier Christian on Jan. 16 but defeated the Heralds 33-29 this past Tuesday to improve to 8-16 overall, 3-4 in the Olympic League. However, they got past Heritage Christian by five points, 56-51, on Jan. 23 and a win on Feb. 8 will force at least a tie for third place, and possibly a three-way tie for second place.

“We are confident,” Freeman said. “We felt like each game in league has been close and very competitive.”