_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________




SAN PEDRO-The Valley Christian High boys basketball team has played in three tournaments this season and has advanced to the championship game in all three. The Defenders had yet another stellar shooting night, this time against Wiseburn-Da Vinci High last Saturday night in a semifinal game in the 12th Annual San Pedro High School Basketball Invitational “Pirate Shoot Out” Tournament, knocking off the Wolves 76-59.

Following a 73-66 win against Lawndale High this past Monday night in the championship game, V.C. improved its record to 16-1. The lone blemish for the Defenders, the top-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 3A, came in the finals of the St. Margaret’s Tournament on Dec. 14 against Newport Harbor High, a 64-58 defeat. 

“It’s exciting,” said V.C. first-year head coach Josh Zumkehr of the first 16 games. “We looked at this as a great opportunity for us to win. I think no one expected us to win our tournament. There were other teams that were more favored. I thought us and Newport Harbor were pretty evenly matched. So, we play Lawndale [in the championship game], and they’re going to be a really tough matchup for us; they have a lot of good guards. But yeah, we’re excited. Anytime you get into a tournament, you always want to play for the championship, and we have another opportunity.”

V.C. was down last Saturday night 6-2 early on the strength of two three-pointers from Blake Cabrera. But the Defenders scored the next seven points and took the lead for good with 3:07 remaining in the first quarter on a basket from senior Malvin Payero. He would score two more straight baskets off an offensive rebound and a steal and from that point on, V.C. never looked back.

The Defenders were up 21-17 after the first quarter, but had no answer for Cabrera, who hit four shots from beyond the arc and would finish the game with 21 points on seven three-pointers. Meanwhile, V.C. spent the first five minutes-plus of the second quarter on an 11-4 run and eventually led at the break, 40-28. V.C. shot 15 of 27 in the first half as it continued to keep its theme of hot shooting in the tournament.

Against Arleta High on Dec. 26, a 103-76 victory, V.C. shot 64 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free throw line. The next night, in an 84-55 win over Banning High, the Defenders were 46 percent from the field.

“It’s “shooting” because we’re getting a lot of lay-ups, especially in transition,” Zumkehr said. “That’s this team’s strength; is our ability to get out and go. Sometimes it can hurt us when we need to slow the game down when we have a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter because we only know how to play one way.”

Any chance the Wolves had of getting back in the game were shot down in the first 87 seconds of the second half when junior Denzel Williams scored twice and sophomore Nathan Medina once and just like that, V.C. had an 18-point lead. The Defenders would maintain a double digit lead the rest of the way as they have now scored at least 75 points eight times. 

Payero, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, led everyone with 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Williams had 20 points. Medina pitched in with 14 points and nine rebounds while junior Luca Caldarella added another 10 points and 13 rebounds. 

Against Arleta, Payero had a career-high 35 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while Medina and Williams followed with 23 and 18 points respectively. Medina would post a career-high 37 points against Banning and pulled down 11 points while Williams had 14 points and nine boards. Medina and Williams were named to the all-tournament team.

V.C. will travel to Whittier High on Jan. 4 before hosting Maranatha High on Jan. 7 in the Olympic League opener.

“The reality is that it’s nice to be 15-1, but it doesn’t give us any guarantee to be in the playoffs,” Zumkehr said. “The way the CIF does the playoffs now, you have to get an automatic bid more than likely in our division. So, this is great; 15-1 looks nice, but we need to finish third place our better in league and that’s never going to be an easy task.”