SUN VALLEY — On paper, the boys’ basketball playoff matchup between Bellarmine-Jefferson High and Village Christian had the makings of a classic blowout.
The Crusaders came into Wednesday’s CIF Southern Section Division V-AA first round game not only as the No. 2 seed, but they had lost just two games all season and had won 22 of their last 23. In contrast, the Guards had to receive an at-large berth into the postseason and came in losers of five of their last seven games.
But in the first half, Bell-Jeff took advantage of Village Christian turnovers and gave the Crusaders all they could handle. However, the Guards couldn’t maintain the pace and the Crusaders were able to come on in the second half to earn a 61-38 victory at home.
The loss ended the season for the Guards (9-18), who placed fourth in the Santa Fe League.
The Crusaders (25-2), the Olympic League champions, had trouble with the Guards in the first half, maintaining just a 9-7 lead in a low-scoring first quarter. Bell-Jeff was still within striking distance after being outscored, 13-7, in the second quarter and going into halftime down by eight, 22-14.
“I was definitely happy with the way we came out tonight,” Bell-Jeff Coach Julian Andrade said. “I felt the level of competition that we played all year geared us up for this game. I was just hoping that we were going to be able to maintain that level of play for the entire game.”
The Guards could have made a big move in the second quarter, as their defense helped cause six turnovers. But Bell-Jeff struggled with its shooting during the stanza. Along with converting just two of its 10 shots from the field, it also made just three of nine free-throw attempts.
“Free-throw shooting just killed us,” said Andrade, whose squad was eight of 20 from the charity stripe on the night.
The Crusaders were aided in the second quarter by the play under the basket of senior Marquis Salmon, who tallied seven of his 11 redounds in the second. He led all scorers with 18 points.
Village Christian also received 15 points and nine rebounds from sophomore Bryan Alberts and junior Andrew English Jr. added 10 rebounds.
Village Christian Coach Jon Shaw wasn’t pleased with his team’s overall performance, which included 23 turnovers and a one-for-14 effort from three-point range.
“The Bell-Jeff coaches did a great job having them ready to play,” Shaw said. “But it’s tough for our guys to stay focused. We really have to identify that we have to come out with energy and enthusiasm in every game. We just sometimes have a lack of focus.”
In the second quarter, the Guards whittled the Crusaders’ lead to one when senior Elijah Reed drained a jumper with 3:26 left. But Village Christian went on an 8-1 run to finish the quarter.
The Crusaders’ defense began to buckle down in the second half, and the Guards just couldn’t keep up.
“I think their length kind of wore us down in that second half and we just had problems making our shots,” Andrade said.
Senior Connor Lunquist paced the Guards with eight points.