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Bell-Jeff’s Viray gets proper send-off in win

Jeff Tully

When Bellarmine-Jefferson High’s Clarence Viray separated his left

shoulder Jan. 29, it looked as if the senior had played his last high

school game.

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However, Guards’ Coach Eli Essa wasn’t about to let his top player

hang up his sneakers without a proper send-off. The coach just needed

the right opportunity to carry out his plan.

Wednesday, in a 53-47 Santa Fe League victory against host

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Panorama City St. Genevieve, Essa decided the time was right to give

Viray a big surprise.

“I told Clarence to make sure he put on his uniform before the

game,” Essa said. “He probably thought that I just wanted him to fell

like a part of the team. He was kind of surprised that I wanted him

to suit up.”

With 17 seconds remaining in the game -- and the Guards with a

comfortable nine-point lead -- Bell-Jeff’s Vahe Issai was fouled hard

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and he fell to the floor, injuring his back. With Issai unable to

shoot two free throws, many of the Guard players jumped up and

volunteered to take the shots.

However, Essa walked over to Viray and asked the senior if we

would like to take the shots.

With his shoulder cradled in a sling -- in front of a stunned

crowd -- Viray made his way to the charity stripe for his two shots.

“When I went out there for the free throws, I couldn’t even see

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that well,” Viray said. “I was so excited when coach told me I was

shooting that one of my contacts fell out when I was taking off my

uniform. But I didn’t care. I went out there any way.

“I was just saying to myself ‘You have to at least make one shot.’

I wanted to make a shot so bad.”

Hunched over, Viray took the ball in his uninjured right hand and

let a shot go. It missed. However, on this second attempt, the ball

found its mark.

As the ball worked its way through the net, the Bell-Jeff bench

erupted in shouts and applause, a fitting tribute to a player who

averaged 16 points, four assists and 2.5 steals a game prior to being

injured.

“It was the most incredible feeling,” Viray said. “I will remember

it all of my life.”

Although his one point might be just a blip in the Bell-Jeff box

score, the gracious gesture by his coach meant a great deal to Viray.

“Thanks very much, coach,” a misty-eyed Viray said to Essa at the

end of the game. “You made my season.”

Essa said Viray deserved the recognition, as his player was

devastated after he injured himself playing dodgeball in a school

physical education class.

“This is a fitting way for him to end his high-school career,”

Essa said. “I just wanted to do a little something for him because he

has done so much for the team.”

Said Viray: “The coach letting me go out there just shows how much

class he has,” he said. “I am so grateful to him for letting me do

that.”

Lost in the Viray drama was a good victory by the Guards (10-11,

2-5 in league). Bell-Jeff earned the win without its second leading

scorer -- Brian Alfaro -- who severely sprained his ankle two weeks

ago. Alfaro was averaging 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.

Picking up the slack against the Valiants (8-13, 1-6) was junior

Brendon Doyle. Doyle was a force in the middle, collecting 22 points,

15 rebounds and five assists.

A nice surprise for the Guards was the play of Issai and B.J.

Aranda, who are filling in for Viray and Alfaro. The new starters

contributed 12 points each.

“This may not be the most talented team I’ve had at Bell-Jeff, but

it is the hardest working,” Essa said. “These guys give it their all

every game and they never give up.”

BOX SCORE

Bell-Jeff 9 14 12

18 -- 53

St. Genevieve 9 4 15

19 -- 47

BELL-JEFF

Doyle 22 points and 15 rebounds, Issai 12, Aranda 12,

Kerjekian 6, Viray 1.

* Three-pointers: none.

ST. GENEVIEVE

Cisneros 16, Arroyo 12, Pasquel 9, Ajale 4, Mendoza 3,

Berrag 2, Ramos 1.

* Three-pointers: Arroyo 2, Mendoza.


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