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MIDDLE MAN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dustin Villepigue of Simi Valley High lacks the scoring statistics of senior teammates Branduinn Fullove and Brett Michel.

He hasn’t made anyone forget his predecessor at center, two-time Ventura County player of the year Rafael Berumen.

Yet the 6-foot-9 junior proved his value to the Pioneers in a 66-51 victory over Villa Park in a Southern Section Division I-A quarterfinal basketball game Friday at Royal High.

Villepigue had game-high totals of 22 points and 11 rebounds to help Simi Valley (27-2) advance to a semifinal against Moreno Valley Rancho Verde at 7:30 tonight at Perris High.

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“They tried to shut down Branduinn and Brett,” said first-year Coach Christian Aurand of Simi Valley. “That gave Dustin a lot of good looks and he took advantage of it.”

With the 6-5 Fullove leading Ventura County with a 24.9 scoring average and the 6-6 Michel contributing 20.7, Villepigue has usually been the third option in Simi Valley’s offense. But he hasn’t complained.

“I think he’s accepted his role beautifully,” Aurand said. “I think he understands that Branduinn and Brett are two of the top four [career] scorers in Ventura County history and that they’re going to be our first options.”

Villepigue is averaging 12 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds after averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds as a sophomore power forward.

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A lot of responsibility was placed on his shoulders after Berumen took his 24.2-point and 11.3-rebound averages to the University of New Mexico in the fall, but Villepigue has relished his role.

“I was really looking forward to it all summer,” he said. “Obviously, I haven’t replaced Rafael’s scoring, but I feel like I’ve done a good job overall.”

Villepigue runs the floor well and frequently forces opponents to alter their shots with his defensive presence. But his biggest asset might be his work ethic.

“I’ve always taken a lot of pride in that,” Villepigue said. “I battle Branduinn and Brett in practice every day and it’s helped me become a better player.”

Villepigue’s nose-to-the-grindstone attitude has been welcome at Simi Valley during a season in which three starters were suspended for at least a game for disciplinary reasons and junior point guard Shaun Michel quit the team before the final game of the regular season after walking out at halftime of the previous game.

Michel’s departure was expected to hurt Simi Valley’s playoff chances, but the Pioneers are one victory away from advancing to their first section title game since 1993.

“The turmoil that’s surrounded this team didn’t affect our play that much on the court,” Villepigue said. “But it might have prevented us from being a team off it. But I know it doesn’t matter if you score 50 points or one as long as you win.”


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