An enthusiastic and rowdy crowd filled the bleachers at the Ventura College gymnasium on Tuesday evening for the quarterfinal round of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division VI boys’ basketball playoffs. The audience anticipated the outcome of the game in hopes that the Dragons would continue their incredible playoff run. However, the Mustangs of Vasquez High School aimed to shock everyone and pull off an upset against Foothill.
The crowd was not disappointed as the Dragons defeated the Mustangs with a final score of 63-40.
Head Coach Dean Prophet said that before the game, he reminded his team that to take it “one game at a time.”
“We just tell them to keep doing what they’ve done to get us here,” he said. “If things don’t go our way early, [we] know that there is still time afterwards to get things set straight.”
In addition, power forward Cameron Strain ‘18 described his emotions before the big game.
“I was just mentally prepared, and I was making sure all my teammates were mentally prepared,” he said. “We were coming out determined, wanting to get this win so we could move on.”
The game began with Daniel Holst ‘17 controlling the tip-off for Foothill. Although the Dragons were unable to score on the opening possession, they forced a turnover on the defensive end, leading to a mid-range jump shot from Holst. The Mustangs quickly made two baskets to take the lead, but Strain tied the game at 4-4 with a basket of his own.
Two minutes later, Vasquez attempted to regain the lead, but they were unsuccessful on a fast break layup. When shooting guard Jack Vielbig ‘19 attempted a contested three-pointer that missed the mark.
Holst grabbed the offensive rebound and passed it back to Vielbig, who redeemed himself with a successful three-pointer.
As the final minute of the quarter approached, the Mustangs cut the lead to one point with a ten-foot jump shot inside the key. The Dragons’ offense rushed down the court to retaliate and Strain was promptly fouled, sending him to the free throw line. He converted one of two free throws to extend the lead to two points. Vasquez attempted a buzzer beater as the clock winded down but it was blocked by Foothill, preserving an 8-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Strain opened the second quarter with two plays: a blocked shot on the defensive end and a layup on the offensive end. He was fouled on the shot but couldn’t complete the three point play as he missed the free throw. The Dragons committed a foul of their own a minute later, and the Mustangs added a free throw to reduce Foothill’s lead to three points.
With a jump shot by Holst and a layup by Tyler Ragan-Sutton ‘17, Vasquez called a timeout with four minutes left in the quarter. The Dragons then forced a defensive stop, which led to a fast break layup by Collin Vallance ‘18.
The Mustangs’ attempted to spark their offense with a free throw, but Foothill responded with two more baskets from Holst and Dale Starr ‘17, respectively. Vasquez then scored seven unanswered points, putting Foothill’s 20-15 lead in jeopardy.
However, the Dragons shifted the momentum once more when Ragan-Sutton drove to the basket and completed a three point play with four seconds left in the half. As the clock expired, the Dragons headed into halftime with a 23-15 lead.
Foothill wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the second half, as Ragan-Sutton drilled a three-pointer within ten seconds and made a free throw the next possession. Over the next four minutes, Vasquez reduced the Dragons’ lead to nine points but Devin Brown ‘17 halted the Mustangs’ scoring run with a long three-point field goal.
In the remaining minutes of the quarter, Foothill extended their lead to 50-33 with a few mid-range jump shots and solid defensive stops. With one quarter left to play, the Dragons were eight minutes away from their first trip to the CIF Division VI semifinals.
When asked about the offensive explosion in the third quarter, Prophet attributed “percentages” to their success.
“We normally shoot very well,” he said. “And when [they didn’t] shoot well the first half, I told the kids, ‘Let’s start hitting shots.’”
Down 17 points, Vasquez needed stellar play to give themselves a chance to stay alive in the playoffs. They started off with two free throws to cut the lead to 15, but within two minutes the Dragons scored six unanswered points to stretch the lead to 56-35. The Mustangs called timeout and promptly responded with a deep three-point field goal. Even though Foothill failed to score on the following possession, Holst came through with two impressive blocked shots on the defensive end.
Once the game began to slip away from Vasquez, they started to intentionally foul Vielbig. Their strategy was unsuccessful as Vielbig made four free throws in six attempts to ice the game, finishing with a team-high 16 points. Foothill held the ball in the remaining seconds of the game until the buzzer sounded. With a final score of 63-40, Foothill had defeated the Mustangs and was headed to the first CIF Division VI semifinals in program history.
In response to his team’s performance, Prophet stated that it wasn’t their best game because they were “missing shots that they normally make.” However, he said he would grade the team’s performance as an ‘A’ because of the win.
Ragan-Sutton was grateful for many things, but he emphasized the support of the fans, saying that the crowd “had a big part of us getting the energy to come back.”
“We started off in a shooting slump,” he said. “But once the crowd got us pumped up, we started getting good shots.”
Strain also offered his thoughts on the outcome of the game as he noted the positive and some improvements that needed to be made.
“I think our defense was semi-solid,” he said. “Our shooting wasn’t too well, but we were able to get back into the game.”
Personally, Ragan-Sutton believes that they are prepared for the semifinals, but he acknowledged that they haven’t played under this type of pressure before.
“It will be tough for us, but that’s why we are going to practice getting ready for this big game,” he said.
Ragan-Sutton’s mindset for their next game against is simply “win, win, win.”
“Knowing that we are one step closer [to our goal] is amazing,” he said.
The Dragons look to continue their historic playoff run on Friday, where they will travel to play against the Tritons of Pacifica Christian Orange County. The Tritons won their quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday as well, defeating Cate High School with a final score of 79-62.
Prophet said the focus this week in practice will be to “get some of our players healthy,” including Vallance and Starr.