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Foothill boys basketball: Royal rumble

League-leading Valencia brawls with Wildcats, then beats them

Posted: January 28, 2011 10:38 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2011 10:38 p.m.

Valencia forward Michael Zerpoli (30) goes up for a shot as West Ranch’s Josh Caton defends on Friday at Valencia High School. The Vikings held off the Wildcats 67-61 in a scrappy affair.

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By now, Foothill League teams know Valencia boys basketball likes to play physical.

That physicality reached a boiling point on Friday night, which nearly cost the Vikings a win.

Nearly — but not quite, and the Vikings walked off the court with a 67-61 victory over West Ranch at Valencia High School.
But that wasn’t before five players were ejected and an array of technical fouls were issued.

With 3:51 left on the clock, Valencia junior Troy Hammel tried to secure a rebound as West Ranch’s Brian Polynice and Zach Farmer fought for the ball.

The Vikings led 54-48 at the time.

Eventually, the three wrestled to the ground, much to the dismay of Valencia’s Lonnie Jackson, who decided to jump on the pile.
What was originally called as a jump ball turned into an all-out brawl.

By the time coaches and referees were able to break it up, ejections were handed out to Valencia’s two leading scorers, Jackson and Hammel. A third Valencia player, Michael Zerpoli, was also kicked out, along with Polynice and Farmer.

“There’s got to be a balance,” said Valencia head coach Rocket Collins of his team’s physical style. “You can’t be soft, but you’ve got to know when to use it and when not to.”

Collins himself was handed a technical for arguing after the play, and after all the fouls offset, the Wildcats were awarded four free throws and the ball.

Justin Ballenger hit all four to add to his game-high 15 points, and less than a minute later, the game was knotted at 54-54.
But Valencia (16-6, 5-1) went back to doing what got it lead in the first place: driving the lane and getting to the line.

“We just moved the ball and they just stepped up,” Collins said. “We have decent depth on this team. I wasn’t worried.”

Before leaving the game, Hammel led the team with 14 points and Jackson had 11.

West Ranch (14-7, 2-4) couldn’t pull down enough rebounds in key situations down the stretch, and Valencia’s 6-of-6 performance from the free-throw line in the final 21 seconds ended up as the difference.

“The way we were going to win this game was to get those 50-50 balls,” said West Ranch head coach Sean Legaux. “There were three or four situations at the end there where we just didn’t get to the ball quick enough.”

Before the scuffle, it was already a physical matchup, with West Ranch forward Ako Kaluna doing his best to deal with Jackson in the post.

Kaluna also had 12 points on the offensive end.

The Wildcats led 31-25 at the midway point of the second quarter after Ballenger hit back-to-back threes.

Valencia switched from man-to-man to zone defense, and things began to turn around.

West Ranch, which hit 12 shots from long range, started missing shots, and momentum seemingly shifted to the home team.
“They were really getting to the basket and kicking it out, and that really hurt us,” Hammel said.

In the first half alone, the Wildcats hit nine threes, which helped them to a 34-30 halftime lead.

As for the ejections, it came as little surprise to Legaux.

“It’s a common theme,” he said. “When you play Valencia, that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t think either coach is happy about what happened tonight.”

And neither team will be happy about playing without the ejected players on Tuesday, by rule.
“We have to go play,” Collins said.

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