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The Valley Christian Academy Lions got off to a strong start in Friday’s game against LaVerne’s Lutheran High Trojans at the annual I-Charge Tournament in Santa Maria.

But it was the Trojans who had the strong finish, their pressure defense powering them to a 65-45 victory.

VCA’s Jarrett Smith scored the game’s first points to get the Lions off and running.

Meanwhile, Lutheran looked a bit tense, having its first shot blocked and then turning the ball over on their next.

When the Lions’ Kiernan Quinones tossed in an underhand scoop shot, the Lions were ahead 8-2, three minutes into the game.

The Trojans settled down and when Jacob Espinoza grabbed a rebound and completed a one-man fast break, the game was tied 8-all heading into the final minute of the quarter.

Seconds later, VCA’s Marcos Cardenas put the home team back on top with an easy layup to give the Lions a 10-8 lead.

With the score tied at 10-10 early in the second quarter, Quinones went on a 7-0 run, with layups after a steal and rebound and a three-point shot from the top of the key, to put VCA up 17-10 with 4:42 left in the half.

“When we played our game – slow and steady – things went really well,” said Valley Christian head coach Christopher Maples.

Lutheran coach Tom Parada then told his players to pick up the intensity and switched to a tight full court press.

“I wanted them to pick them up full court, try to get some turnovers and get some baskets off the transition game,” said Parada.

From there, the Trojans seized control, holding VCA to just one more basket in the half.

Meanwhile Lutheran went on a 12-0 run for a 29-17 lead with under 30-seconds left before the break.

“That run really turned the game around,” said Parada. “It really settled the boys down and put us well out in front.”

The Lions broke the run with John Mussack’s short jumper.

Anthony Liska answered for Lutheran just before the buzzer and Lutheran went to the locker room leading 31-20 at the half.

VCA was only able to knock one point off the lead in the third quarter.

Two minutes into the fourth quarter, The Trojans went on an 11-0 run in less than two minutes, putting them up 58-37 and putting a win out of reach for the Lions.

Quinones led the Lions with 16 points. Jon Mussack added 12. Andrew Sparlin and Smith each scored six points. Ethan McCoy had three points and Marcos Cardenas had two.

“Andrew’s scoring six points doesn’t show the influence he has on the game,” said Maples. “He makes such a huge difference. He forces the other team to alter their game.”

Jacob Espinoza led Lutheran with 25 points. Anthony Liska added 20, Dylan Parker had nine points, hitting three 3-point baskets and Zack Liska, Anthony’s brother, had four points. Joshua Allen with three points and Michael Allen and Caleb Arguinzoni, with two apiece, rounded out the scoring.

“We played so much better than we did yesterday (a 52-30 loss to Garden Street Academy),” said Maples. “We have several players who are on vacation. It gave us the chance to start Jonathan (Mussack) at point game. He had a really good game today.”

VCA (0-5) wraps up the tournament with a game against Arroyo Grande’s Coastal Christian Saturday at 4 p.m.

Girls Basketball

Lutheran 39, VCA 35

In a back and forth game, Lutheran broke a 35-all tie with a basket and two late free throws in the final 30 seconds to post a win over VCA’s girls at the I-Charge Tournament.

Valley Christian was held scoreless in the third quarter, which put a serious dent in the team’s chances to win.

Lutheran held a 9-5 lead at the end of the first quarter but the Lions roared in the second, outscoring the Trojans 17-5 to take a 22-14 lead into the break.

But Lutheran ran off 16 unanswered points in the third, to open a 30-22 lead.

“It was tough. We didn’t score in the third quarter, so that really put us back,” said Shy Kendrick. “It was a good game. They’re strong competitors. They’re from the San Fernando Valley and we’ve never seen them before.”

“You cannot go a whole quarter without scoring a point,” said VCA coach Randy Stanford. “We were rushing our shots, not running our usual offense – not playing the kind of basketball I know we can play.”

The Lions battled all the way back to tie the game at 35 before the Trojans late field goal put Lutheran ahead for good.

VCA still had time to get off three shots that would have tied the game but after Lutheran grabbed a late rebound and was fouled, a win was out of VCA’s reach.

“We were missing a starter – our 5-11 center Ciera Sallee is on vacation with her family,” said Stanford. “But you can see we’ve got some kids who are really hustling – Shy, Savannah Trenkle Grace Cose and Mayley DiBernardi.”

Kendrick led VCA with 24 points. DiBernardi added six and Cose five.

VCA wraps up tournament play Saturday with a 2:30 p.m. game against Shandon.

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Senior Sports Reporter