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Wildcats claw to No. 2 in league

Posted: February 13, 2014 11:07 p.m.
Updated: February 13, 2014 11:07 p.m.

West Ranch's Christian Ware-Berry, right, tried to get by Valencia defender Malik McCowan on Thursday at Valencia High.

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The program that lost the two best players in the Foothill League in 2013 to graduation and the one that lost its first two league games in 2014 has now won something that begins with a two — second place.

The West Ranch Wildcats boys basketball team defeated the Valencia Vikings 64-59 on Thursday night at Valencia High and secured what was once thought to be an unreachable second place in the Foothill League.

“We were taking it as motivation, as fuel for the fire,” said West Ranch forward Izayah Doyle on the doubts about the Wildcats.

It was Doyle’s key rebound and putback deep in the fourth quarter that held back a Valencia team that was clawing at the Wildcats throughout the second half.

West Ranch point guard Ryan Beddeo, who missed the entire first half because of a lingering knee injury, launched a deep three-point attempt because he unknowingly milked too much of the shot clock.

The shot bounced off the rim and Doyle won the rebound from three Vikings and then laid the ball in with a foul.

His free throw gave the Wildcats (15-12 overall, 8-2 Foothill League) a 58-51 lead.

It may have been the difference.

“Our lack of height. We get that one crucial rebound, it’s that simple,” said Valencia head coach Rocket Collins on the game and his team in general this season.

Valencia (19-8, 6-4) had two losses to West Ranch this season that could have easily went the other way.

They lost to the Wildcats 71-69 on Jan. 28.

West Ranch began to run away with Thursday’s game in the third quarter, going on an 8-2 run to extend its 27-24 halftime lead to 35-26.

The lead reached 43-30 on a floater by Alec Rodriguez, who finished with 18 points.

But Valencia scored the next 10 points, with James Burrell’s steal, layup and free throw cutting the lead to 43-40 with 1:56 to play in the third quarter.

Burrell was one of three Vikings with 11 points (Malik McCowan, Alex Sanchez).

Valencia got even closer with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter with an Angel Cardenas rebound and follow that cut West Ranch’s lead to 53-51.

And the Vikings had every opportunity to take the lead, but missed their next five shots, including three three-point attempts.

Valencia made just 3-of-16 three-point attempts in the game.

West Ranch was 5-of-10.

Doyle had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Ryne Williams had nine points and 10 rebounds.

The Wildcats were a perfect 11-of-11 from the free-throw line.

And yes, the Wildcats played it close again.

It was the seventh Foothill game for the Wildcats decided by 10 points or less this season.

Last season, with dominant center Ako Kaluna and All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year guard Kevin Harris, West Ranch won seven games by at least 10 points.

“We’re not stupid, we knew what people were saying — ‘They might finish in fifth, they might not make the playoffs,’” said West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci. “After losing the first two Foothill games, our backs were against the wall. But these guys fought and fought and fought. ... Honestly we’re happy to be in second place. Our guys fought through adversity.”

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