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Foothill Hoops: Leaders looking strong

The Day After Hoops: Hart boys, Valencia girls in top form so far

Posted: January 29, 2014 9:57 p.m.
Updated: January 29, 2014 9:57 p.m.

Hart senior guard Lewis Stallworth, right, is a big reason why his team is perfect in Foothill League play through five games.

 

This is when everyone can take a step back and take a breath.

We’re exactly halfway through Foothill League play for basketball. Everybody has played everybody.

Here are the statements we can make.

Hart is the team to beat in boys basketball and Valencia is No. 1 in girls. Both teams are 5-0 in league and in control of their own destiny.

Neither team is a shoe-in.

In boys hoops, there’s a three-way tie for second place in league between Canyon, West Ranch and Valencia, which are all 3-2 in league play.

All three teams are chasing Hart, but they’re also trying to hang on to the coveted top three spot in league to clinch an automatic playoff berth.

West Ranch started off the league season with two straight losses before putting itself back into the mix with a dramatic 71-69 win over Valencia on Tuesday.

After playing the toughest preleague schedule in the Foothill League, West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci said his team is well tested in those types of close games.

And yet, it will still continue to be difficult for any team to match up against Hart’s stellar guards Lewis Stallworth and Myles Franklin.

“Defend and rebound,” said Hart head coach Tom Kelly on what his team will need to do to stay perfect.

With his big play ability and explosiveness, Stallworth is a clear frontrunner for Foothill Player of the Year.

So far, Canyon has come the closest to limiting Hart, which survived in a 59-55 win against the Cowboys on Tuesday.

The same two teams meet again on Feb. 14 in what could be an unforgettable season finale.

“It’s a Foothill League game, so there’s no easy ones,” said Canyon head coach Sean DeLong. “We definitely have to go out there and work, and just keep making sure we’re getting better every night.”

Canyon’s defense has excelled all season long with the exception of an 81-49 defeat at the hands of a hot-shooting, fast-breaking Valencia team.

If Valencia and its array of shooters get on a roll, it can be a dangerous team.

The fight for the fifth-place spot is controlled by Golden Valley for the time being after the Grizzlies snapped a 34-game Foothill losing skid with a 41-38 victory over Saugus on Tuesday.

To this point, the Valencia girls haven’t even been challenged by another Foothill team.

The Vikings are winning league games by an average of 22 points, none closer than their 63-45 win over West Ranch on Tuesday.

While senior center Sandra Ikeora leads the charge for Valencia, the team routinely shows its depth with various role players making their contributions.

“I don’t see why we can’t (keep this up),” said Valencia head coach Jerry Mike. “The girls keep getting better so we’re having good practices and no one’s really talking about 5-0 and all that stuff.”

Right on Valencia’s tail is the four-time defending league champion Canyon Cowboys, who stand one game behind the leaders at 4-1.

Canyon will get a chance to catch up on Feb. 7 when the two front runners meet for a second time.

“It’s just a matter of trying to keep kids looking forward and keep the end goal in mind,” said Canyon head coach Chuck Johns, whose young team is led by seniors Kali Vittallo and Delaney McCann.

Other league teams contending for playoff spots include Hart at 3-2 in league and West Ranch at 2-3.

Hart, led by dynamic guard Breze Kimble, is making an impressive revival after winning a combined two league contests in the last two seasons.

As for West Ranch, senior guard Whitney Branham continues to light up the scoreboard by scoring nearly 28 points per game.

Meanwhile, Golden Valley picked up its first league win since Feb. 3, 2012 by beating Saugus 56-37 on Tuesday.

Could this be the sign of another Golden Valley team on the rise?

These are the types of questions that may be answered in the coming weeks as teams embark on the latter half of Foothill League basketball.

Signal contributor Michael Grandinetti contributed to this report.

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