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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW – Valley Christian’s hot shooting keeps winning streak going, easily defeats Serrano

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

There was thunder and lightning along with rain outside the Valley Christian High gymnasium last Thursday, but inside, it was the boys basketball team which provided the electricity as the Defenders hosted Serrano High. They began the game on an 8-0 run, then added a pair of 11-0 scoring streaks plus a 5-0 run late in the first half as V.C. blasted the Diamondbacks 68-40.

The contest wasn’t as close as the final score indicated as V.C. was up by 39 points with 37.4 seconds left in the third quarter before Serrano scored eight straight points to keep the game from going into a running clock situation.

“We have a lot of weapons; it’s just about executing,” said V.C. first-year head coach Dijon Thompson. “That’s what I’m trying to get the players to do, is execute. We’re coming off back to back [games]. We have a lot of back to back games in January. So, we’re trying to train our bodies and trying to train our minds for January when that happens so we don’t have those mental lapses.”

Those weapons begin with seniors Jacob Bayla and Gavin Stahl, who each scored six points in the opening quarter as the Defenders led 19-5 after the first eight minutes. Bayla had four rebounds and a block while Stahl drained a pair of three-pointers. In the second quarter, Bayla added a three-pointer, two rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block to his total while Stahl had three boards and another trifecta as part of the 16 points the team would score.

While those two combined for 20 first half points, sophomore Josiah James was heating up with seven of his nine points in the stanza. And another weapon was senior Bryce Shepherd, who had 11 points on five of shooting from the field in the third quarter. Stahl ended with a game-high 18 points with five three-pointers and half a dozen rebounds while Shepherd added 16 points and was seven of 13 from the field.

“They’re very important weapons,” said Thompson. “Bryce is our defensive specialist, but his points definitely help us. Gavin is definitely our shooting specialist, so any threes we can get from him definitely are positive. But just him being out there stretches the floor. And Jacob is our floor leader; he does everything for us.”

Bayla ended with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists while James (nine points, six rebounds) and senior Myles Harvey (six rebounds) also had solid performances. The Defenders won their fourth straight game and four of their seven wins have been by at least 15 points with two others by four points or less. On the other side of the ledger, they have lost three games by a point, four points and three points.

“It’s a confidence booster,” said Thompson. “We definitely need those, especially to enjoy the holidays. We’ve had a lot of close games for us. We kind of need to see these types of games. So again, we just need to start working on discipline and stuff like that. But we needed it.”

Thompson, who is the program’s fourth straight head coach in as many seasons and sixth in the past seventh, says he has been impressed with the effort through the first dozen games. But the schedule will get a bit tougher after V.C. plays Rowland High, Holy Martys Armenian High and Brea Olinda High in the Ontario Christian Tournament to end the month. The Defenders begin Olympic League play on Tuesday at Heritage Christian High, one of four league teams with a winning record, the visits Loyola High on Wednesday.

“These guys have been coming to practice willing to work,” he said. “They’re being coachable and all my seniors are trying to leave with a legacy.”

In other boys basketball action, Artesia High lost two of three games in the Osceola Holiday Winter Classic in Orlando to wrap up 2023 with an 8-5 record. The Pioneers will begin 605 League action on Wednesday at John Glenn High. 

Cerritos High played Mira Mesa High this past Wednesday in the first round of the 37th Holiday Hoops Classic inside Sundevil Arena at Mt. Carmel High and got past the Marauders 56-52. There were 11 lead changes throughout the game, the last coming when senior Tobenna Ozoagu converted a three-point play with 2:09 left in the game. That put the Dons (6-8) up 47-45. 

Cerritos held the lead from the 6:26 mark of the first quarter until the 5:05 mark of the second quarter, leading by as many as five points with the largest deficit being three points. Ozoagu led everyone with 19 points and added seven rebounds and four assists while senior Osinachi Agaranna added 17 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Junior Benson Cho was also solid with eight rebounds, seven points and two assists as the Dons faced Mission Hills High on Dec. 28. This was the sixth straight win over the Marauders since 2005, all coming in the same tournament which takes place between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. 

Cerritos had been a mainstay in the tournament, which runs through Saturday, up until the pandemic. This was the first time since 2016 the Dons won the first game, ironically against Mira Mesa (76-55), and finished in fifth place out of 16 teams. The Dons will visit Oxford Academy on Wednesday in the 605 League opener.

Gahr High lost to Independence High out of Bakersfield 50-47 this past Tuesday in pool play action of the Southern California Christmas Classic, hosted by South Pasadena High. The Gladiators (8-5) will also face Fremont High and Mark Keppel High in the tournament before hosting Norwalk High on Wednesday in the Mid-Cities League opener.

La Mirada High, which hasn’t played since Dec. 15, began bracket play of The Classic at Damien against Idaho-based Owyhee High this past Wednesday. The Matadores (11-3) will play three more games in the tournament, then host Lynwood High on Wednesday in the Gateway League opener.

Norwalk defeated Avalon High 47-44 last Thursday and in doing so, won consecutive games for the first time to improve to 6-8. The Lancers faced Pioneer High in the first round of the Estancia Winter Classic ahead of its league opener with Gahr.

Whitney High and Oxford Academy co-hosted the D5 Challenge which runs through Saturday. The Wildcats (9-6) will begin 605 League action on Wednesday at Pioneer.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Artesia and Cerritos will both participate in the 20th Southern California Holiday Prep Classic throughout San Diego County, which began this past Wednesday. The Pioneers (6-4), who haven’t played since Dec. 8, will face West Hills High, Lincoln High, San Diego High and Maranatha High in round robin action of the PREP Division, then visits Glenn on Wednesday. The Dons, who fell to North Torrance High 61-47 last Friday, began the week at 7-5 and is in the NAIA Silver Division where they will play Gig Harbor (WA), Fallbrook High and Torrey Pines High. Cerritos will visit Oxford Academy on Wednesday.

Gahr (12-2) and La Mirada (7-2) are in the Rancho Alamitos Tournament then comes league play where the former has a bye on Wednesday in its first season in the Gateway League while the Matadores host Firebaugh High on Wednesday. 

Norwalk defeated San Gabriel 49-40 last Friday to improve to 6-11 as the Lancers will visit Dominguez High on Wednesday while V.C. is in the Larry Doyle Tournament, hosted by Marina High. The tournament ends on Friday, then the Defenders (7-7) travel to Heritage Christian on Tuesday.

BOYS SOCCER

Artesia is 7-0-2 as it hosted Corona High on Dec. 28. The Pioneers have given up three goals and posted six shutouts as they will visit Glenn on Wednesday while Cerritos lost to Esperanza High 3-2 last Friday for its fifth straight setback. The Dons (2-7-0) will visit Oxford Academy on Wednesday.

Gahr (1-5-3) will face San Pedro on Friday in the South Easte Winter Classic, then hosts Norwalk (0-7-2) in the Mid-Cities League opener on Wednesday while Glenn blanked San Gabriel High 2-0 to move to 5-6-1.

La Mirada is 4-5-1 and hosts Warren High on Wednesday while V.C. (2-9-2) welcomes Heritage Christian on Tuesday.

GIRLS SOCCER

Artesia is the hottest team in the area, sporting a 9-1-1 mark with eight shutouts. The Pioneers host Godinez High on Friday before hosting Glenn on Wednesday while Cerritos is 5-3-1 as it hosts Oxford Academy on Wednesday.

Gahr has won four straight games to even its mark at 6-6-1 as the Gladiators are off until Jan. 5 when they host Warren while Glenn is 1-6-1 entering its game with Artesia.

La Mirada (2-6-3) visits Warren on Wednesday, Norwalk (1-6-1) entertains Lynwood High on Wednesday and V.C. (3-4-0) faced Montclair High and Northview High this past Wednesday in the Ontario Christian Tournament. The Defenders will stay in that event until Friday, then begins Olympic League action on Tuesday at Heritage Christian.