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OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASKETBALL – Valley Christian boys let potential upset victory slip away in fourth quarter

January 19, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The Valley Christian High boys basketball program has not won an Olympic League title since the 2007-2008 season and since the current format of the league began for the 2010-2011 season, the league has seen three schools win league championships. One of those schools is Village Christian High, which has three league titles in the past 10 seasons.

The Defenders seemed to have a comfortable 10-point lead over Village Christian with 6:25 remaining in last Friday’s contest but went into an offensive funk and was nipped by the Crusaders 46-45. After winning eight straight games, Valley Christian (13-8, 1-3) had lost two straight league outings by a combined four points before getting past Camarillo High 69-66 last Saturday. V.C. also fell to Heritage Christian High 69-50 this past Tuesday night.

“You have to win four quarters and we won three and we didn’t win the last quarter,” said V.C. first-year head coach Tom Lewis. “They came back and that’s why we lost. You have to win all four.”

Up 38-28, the Defenders missed on five straight shots over a span of 6:23 before sophomore Myles Harvey drained a three-pointer to make it 46-45 with 2.4 seconds left. After a timeout, Village Christian threw the ball away to senior Nathan Medina and after dribbling for what seemed to be more than two seconds, he launched a desperation three-point attempt that never found the iron.

“You can look at it from so many different dynamics,” Lewis said of the final play of the game. “The clock went out, the refs… I wasn’t sure what the refs had on [the clock]. There was a lot of confusion. The refs said this, and we said that, and the refs didn’t give us an opportunity to clarify it or run another play.”

The first quarter was as close as any basketball game could be with nine lead changes and neither team holding a lead greater than two points. For the Defenders, their two-point lead came with 1.4 seconds left when Medina hit a three-pointer, his first basket of the game.

The Defenders kept the momentum up, both offensively and defensively in the second quarter, by going on a 6-1 run in the first 4:40 of the second quarter while limiting Village Christian to four shot attempts before Immanuel Taylor’s three-pointer with 2:32 left in the half made it 18-14. While Valley Christian was six of 17 from the field in the half, the Crusaders went eight of 23 and did not score consecutive baskets until the final 47.9 seconds.

“I was very proud of the guys; they came out with a lot of energy and a lot of determination,” Lewis said. “I think we got them on their heels. Obviously, they were having a hard time scoring, which we needed them to. We kept the score down where we needed it. When it was all said and done, we won three quarters and they won one.”

Little by little, Valley Christian would begin to increase its advantage in the third quarter. With the scored knotted at 21-21, senior Micah Sybesma and sophomore Jacob Bayla scored on putbacks, and Bayla added another basket with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter to make it 27-21. With 63 seconds left in the stanza and now up by two points, Harvey hit a three-pointer to start an 11-3 run that lasted into the early moments of the fourth quarter.

But that’s when the Crusaders began to connect on more of their shots and tied the game at 39-39 with 3:11 remaining on a three-pointer from Thomas Luczak. After a pair of free throws from Bayla, Village Christian took the lead for good on a trifecta from Powell Mousaian with 1:28 left in the game. It was the first lead for the Crusaders since they were up 10-9 late in the first quarter.

In the fourth quarter alone, Valley Christian was three of nine from the field, six of nine from the free throw line and had two rebounds while Village Christian missed three of seven from the field and was eight of 13 from the charity stripe.

“They rebounded the ball tremendously well; we have to do a better job of rebounding,” Lewis said. “They hit their foul shots, we missed some layups and foul shots we should have made and in the fourth quarter, you have to make plays. At the end of the day, if you put yourself [in position] to win the fourth quarter, you have to make plays, and they made more than us.”

Valley Christian ended the game connecting on 15 of 37 shots from the field and 12 of 17 free throws while the Crusaders were 15 of 38 from the field and 13 of 19 from the charity stripe. Medina led the Defenders with a season-low 12 points, but seven of them came from the line. Bayla added eight points while Sybesma chipped in with five points and four rebounds.

“They did a great job,” Lewis said. “They ran two guys at him, and they got physical with him. They had a good game plan. That shows a lot of respect for Nathan; how much they respect him to do all that. He’s good enough to obviously handle it and learn from it and move on from it.”

Prior to the game, the Valley Christian girls were seeking its first 3-0 league start since the 2016-2017 season and early on, it appeared it would be in for a good battle with Village Christian, which had played one league game. But the Crusaders ended the first half on a 10-0 run, then outscored the hosts 22-9 in the second half and cruised to a 47-24 victory. Valley Christian, which had won six straight games and also won its first two league games in the 2019-2020 campaign, bounced back to defeat Heritage Christian 53-35 this past Tuesday night to see its mark go to 8-13 overall, and 3-1 in the circuit. The loss was the first since a 68-24 setback to Brea Olinda High on Dec. 27.

“I know their coach pretty well and I think he takes the first quarter to assess what he’s going to do, then he sizes everybody up,” said V.C. first-year interim head coach Dan Leffler. “I knew they were bringing the heat, eventually. So, they brought the heat, they pressed us; they were going to put the pressure on us. We just don’t do a very good job handling it. We’re not experienced enough, we have a bunch of girls that haven’t played enough and we’re a ball handler short or two.”

Village Christian led 11-9 after the first quarter as each team was four of 13 from the field and had four turnovers. After the Crusaders scored 15 seconds into the second quarter, the next score didn’t come until the 5:35 mark when senior Gillian Doplemore connected on her fourth and final basket of the game. The team would get two more baskets over the next two minutes until Village Christian used the final 2:57 of the half, plus the first 3:20 of the second half to go on a 14-0 run to put the game away.

Valley Christian was 11 of 44 from the field and missed all eight free throws as Doplemore’s eight points and 12 rebounds paced the team. Seniors Mia Kandalaft and Karon Warren each added five boards as all 10 players for the Defenders had at least one of the teams’ 33 rebounds.

“You can call a timeout to stop the bleeding, but I only have the personnel I have,” Leffler said. “They were frustrated, and I was trying to get them to be a little bit more team-concept. When you see the trap, you get rid of [the ball]. But it’s back to the drawing board for us. We have to keep working on pressure.”

Both Valley Christian teams will entertain Maranatha High tonight to begin the second round of league action. In addition, the boys are scheduled to host La Serna High on Saturday while the girls are scheduled to visit Pacifica Christian High on Tuesday.

“It does not get any easier, especially with the way our schedule is set up with four home games in a row,” Leffler said. “You try to win as many of these as you can at home before you start making this trek out to the [San Fernando] Valley. Yeah, we have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and then we have to play with a little more confidence.”

“From here on, there are no nights off,” Lewis said. “You’re going to have to grind it out and find wins. But we only have 20 days or 18 days, whatever. We have to find wins, we have to compete, and we have to finish games.”