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Prep boys basketball: ’Cats can’t quite close

West Ranch pulls within one late, but can’t find the winning basket

Posted: February 22, 2013 10:49 p.m.
Updated: February 22, 2013 10:49 p.m.

DANA POINT — In so many cases, a team is a reflection of its leaders.

In West Ranch Wildcats basketball, you have the coolest, calmest player in the Santa Clarita Valley in senior guard Kevin Harris.

No wonder a Dana Hills 12-point, fourth quarter lead disappeared on Friday night.

But with the ball in his hands with less than 10 seconds to play and with a chance to put the Wildcats ahead, not even Harris could bring West Ranch all the way back.

The Wildcats lost 61-59 to the Dana Hills Dolphins at Dana Hills High in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division IA playoffs.

“It’s disappointing. We should have gone further,” Harris said. “But we helped transform this school. That’s all you can ask for.”

It marked the second straight season in which the Wildcats lost in the quarterfinals by a close margin.

West Ranch (21-7) lost to Mission Viejo 81-77 in overtime last season.

This also marked the end of the careers of the great Harris and center Ako Kaluna — two of the most exciting players in Foothill League history.

Kaluna scored 11 points and had three blocks. Harris scored a game-high 28 points with four 3-pointers and 12-of-15 shooting from the free throw line.

Harris drove to the basket from the right side with 10 seconds left in the game and the Wildcats trailing 60-59.

With two defenders in the paint, he took off, leaned in and threw up a shot that was well off the mark.

“I was just going to do a layup then I saw another guy come over and I tried to get contact,” said a still cool and calm Harris after the game. “I should have gone up strong.”

But the Wildcats wouldn’t have been in that position had they not mounted a late, gutsy comeback.

With five minutes to play in the game, Dolphins guard Cory Blau, who led his team with 17 points, cut behind a Wildcats defender for a backdoor layup and a 54-42 lead.

In the next four minutes, West Ranch outscored Dana Hills 17-6. In the game’s final minute, Ryan Beddeo and Harris hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead to 60-59.

But West Ranch wouldn’t have been in the position of having to come back had it not been for four factors.

Dana Hills (23-7) was quicker in transition, especially after West Ranch baskets.

The Wildcats didn’t hit a field goal in the third quarter — a period in which the Dolphins turned a 29-27 West Ranch halftime lead into a 47-39 Dana Hills lead going into the fourth quarter.

Dana Hills, though not bigger than West Ranch, was better on the offensive glass early.

The fourth factor was Dana Hills burned West Ranch all game long on backdoor layups.

“We knew they liked to pressure and extend their defense,” said Dana Hills guard Hayden Fredrick. “We knew we could backdoor them.”

Because West Ranch extended its defense, it left the corners unprotected, allowing for six 3-pointers and success cutting inside on the baseline for easy buckets.

Yet West Ranch had yet another chance as Fredrick was fouled with 3.2 seconds left in the game.

He made 1-of-2 free throws to put Dana Hills up 61-59.

The ball was then inbounded to Harris, but he had to take a half-court shot that bounced hard off the backboard.

Dana Hills celebrated. West Ranch quietly walked off the court and into the locker room.

The Foothill League champion Wildcats returned 15 minutes later to a large waiting crowd that traveled 100 miles to see something special.

In a way, the crowd saw it. They saw a basketball program fight.

“We accomplished so much this year,” Kaluna said. “About two years ago, no one ever heard of West Ranch. Now they hear West Ranch and have nightmares.”


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