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Foothill League boys basketball: Welcome ‘Cats

West Ranch claims first hoops title

Posted: February 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Members of the West Ranch boys basketball team run onto the court in celebration after clinching a share of the first Foothill League title in school history on Friday with an 86-79 win at Valencia.

West Ranch didn’t get this far without a few close calls and without having to overcome a few bumps in the road.

It made perfect sense that Valencia gave the Wildcats all they could handle in Friday night’s final Foothill League boys basketball game of the season.

Thanks to a combined 70 points from Ako Kaluna and Kevin Harris, the Wildcats battled back from a second-half deficit to beat Valencia 86-79, clinching its first Foothill basketball championship in school history at Valencia High School.

“I wish it was a 20-point win so I didn’t lose 10 years of my life,” said West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci amidst a crowd of Wildcats fans celebrating on the home court of the two-time defending league champions.

West Ranch (14-10, 8-2) will have to share this year’s title with Canyon, which beat Hart on Friday to also finish 8-2 in league play.

Valencia (15-11, 3-7) didn’t make it easy though, jumping out to a 15-2 lead at the 3:11 mark of the opening frame.

The quick start was made possible by the Vikings’ defense, which pressured West Ranch into eight first-half turnovers and fought for rebounds and loose balls.

Eventually though, Kaluna and Harris took over, scoring 36 and 34 points, respectively.

“I just had the support from my team, coaches, just feeding off our crowd’s energy,” Kaluna said. “It just makes me want to keep scoring and stay in the game.”

By halftime, the Wildcats closed the gap to a 39-33 Vikings lead.

Both teams continued to make their fair share of big shots, with Valencia guard Troy Hammel scoring 29 points of his own.
But the combination of inside scoring from Kaluna and the jump shooting of Harris couldn’t be stopped.

“Our big guys stepped up,” Bicakci said. “Ako and Kevin stepped up big time at the end of the first half, the second half. Those guys are just gamers.”

Toward the end of a back-and-forth third quarter, West Ranch’s Bo Vaughn stole a Valencia inbound, streaked to the basket and scored a bucket to give his team a 59-58 lead with 26 seconds to play in the third.

It was West Ranch’s first lead of the half, and it was the last for the Vikings.

The big two continued the momentum into the fourth, building the lead to 70-62 within the next two minutes.

Free throws down the stretch put it away, and it cemented Valencia into a fifth-place finish in league.

“Our year was kind of weird this year because it was kind of up and down,” said Valencia head coach Rocket Collins. “We had too many times where we went into a lull.”

Vikings senior Daniel Salovich was the only other player in double figures, ending up with 13 points.


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