The Santa Clarita Valley has two high school basketball teams competing in The Classic at Damien which started Thursday and will run through Monday at Damien High School in La Verne.
The Classic, as it’s referred to by its directors, is in its fourth straight year since its revival and invited Valencia High School (7-2 overall) and Santa Clarita Christian School (7-3) to compete in the gold division.
“For me, it’s really exciting as a coach,” said SCCS head coach James Mosley. “It’s such a high-level tournament. It’s a great encouragement for our program to show the progress we’ve made and the work this group of kids has put in over the years.”
The Classic at Damien has a knack for attracting talented basketball teams from all over the Pacific. The last three teams to win the gold division went on to win their respective leagues, including Valencia who won the gold division in 2018 and is looking to repeat this year.
“The gold and platinum brackets are loaded,” said Valencia’s head coach Bill Bedgood. “It’s more like a playoff kind of environment.”
The Vikings had the honor of kicking off the competition in the gold division with a 9:30 a.m. tipoff against Leuzinger High School (7-4) Thursday. Bedgood used the time off from school before the holidays to prepare his players for their early start time.
“For us, a lot of this was preparation,” Bedgood said. “It’s the first day of the tournament and it’s tough playing early the morning after Christmas.”
Bedgood’s squad skated past the first round in an 82-67 victory over the Olympians. He attributes it to a strong first-half start. The Vikings ended the first quarter with a 19-10 lead and managed to double their lead to 18 by the end of the half. They retreated to the locker room with a 42-24 lead.
The second half proved to be a much tighter contest. The Olympians outscored the Vikings 43-40, but they weren’t able to erase the commanding lead Valencia created in the first half.
A large part of Valencia’s attack at Damien came in the form of senior shooting guard Jake Hlywiak. He landed five 3-point shots and totaled 31 points in the victory. Other top scorers for Valencia were junior point guard Noah Veluzat (11 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and senior center Kevin Konrad (18 points, 10 rebounds).
“Noah played great,” Bedgood said. “He did a great job running the team and getting everybody open, creating offense for other players. Kevin Konrad had a great game for us in the post. He was real effective for us.”
With their first-round win, the Vikings will face off against Rolling Hills Prep (11-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
On the other side of the bracket, SCCS dominated its 2 p.m. matchup against Culver City (5-6). The Cardinals routed the Centaurs 84-56 in a slow-starting game that picked up speed through each quarter. At the end of the first quarter, SCCS only held onto a three-point lead.
RELATED: 2019-20 COC men’s basketball preview
“Defensively in the first quarter I wasn’t happy, but we picked it up,” Mosley said.
The Cardinals rewrote the script in the second quarter. The defense stepped up to only allow 12 points, while the offense built momentum and more than doubled the Centaurs’ second-quarter points. SCCS extended its lead to 18 to lead 43-25 at the break.
A big part of the Cardinals’ turnaround in the second quarter was their ability to stop the inside penetration from Culver City’s offense, said Mosley.
The Cardinals outscored Culver City 18-17 in the third quarter to give themselves a 61-42 lead as the game approached the final quarter. They continued to ramp up the pressure offensively as the game came to a close. SCCS extended its lead to a whopping 28 points to finish off the Centaurs.
“I was excited we were able to expose a pretty good defensive team,” Mosley said. “We had a height advantage, so we did a good job of spreading them out and taking shots.”
Junior guard Josh O’Garro was a driving force in the Cardinals’ offense at Damien Thursday afternoon. He led the team with 34 points on the day.
“Josh led us in scoring,” Mosley said. “He’s pretty good defensively. Offensively as well. His athleticism is dominant.”
Senior forward Caden Starr and junior Tiago Soares were other key pieces in the Cardinals’ offense. They recorded 21 points and 18 points, respectively.
SCCS moves on to play Heritage Christian (11-1) in the second round of The Classic Friday.
“We play a good team tomorrow,” Mosley said. “We know it’s going to be tough, so we’re looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
The tournament continues to look more interesting as both teams advance. Starting on opposite sides of the bracket, SCCS and Valencia are on a crash course for the championship game. Veluzat, who transferred from SCCS to Valencia, adds a flavor that should leave Santa Clarita Valley basketball fans salivating.
“I think it would be exciting for the kids,” Mosley said. “There’s a lot of energy behind it. I would be excited because I know we would be in the championship game. It would be cool.”
The opposing coaches seem to agree about the thrill of the possible matchup, but keep their focus where it needs to be; on the next game of the tournament.
“It would be great,” Bedgood said. “Anybody in that gold division that we are playing is good. We’re just excited to play anyone in our bracket.”