The St. Bernard High School Vikings have one less obstacle in reaching the Southern Section Division IV-AA finals for a second straight season.
The Vikings (21-8) got a payback against St. Joseph High School of Santa Maria in a 72-67 quarterfinals win at home Tuesday, February 22nd.
St. Joseph is the defending Division IV-AA champion and the team that defeated St. Bernard in the finals last year.
While revenge against the Knights (18-10) was sweet for the Vikings, St. Bernard coach Robert Alaniz said his team is ready to compete for the division title, no matter which team is in the way.
“It didn’t matter who it was,” Alaniz said. “The goal was to get back at least to the final four and from there anything’s possible.
“It’s nice for the kids who lost last year to come back and beat those guys.”
One athlete who was eager to avenge the finals defeat from last season is junior forward Vince Hill, who stepped up big for the Viking offense in racking up a team-high 21 points and 15 rebounds.
“It was real important because we wanted payback from last year,” said Hill, referring to the victory over St. Joseph.
The fourth-seeded Vikings may have sent the defending division champion home early, but in order to reach the finals, St. Bernard still has to face top-seeded Campbell Hall High of North Hollywood in the semifinals Friday, February 25th. The game will be held at 7:30 p.m., but the location is yet to be determined.
St. Bernard may have been hungry for revenge against the Knights, but it was St. Joseph that took a slim 19-18 first-quarter lead after a last-second shot by junior forward Brian McConkey.
Both teams came out with quick play and drove to the hoop for early scores.
Senior guard Chris Ceballos, who finished with 13 points, had a couple of defensive blocks and helped boost the Vikings’ offense in the first quarter with eight points.
St. Bernard had seven players add to the score in the second quarter to take a seven-point lead, but St. Joseph cut the deficit to 38-34 before halftime after some offensive turnovers by the Vikings.
“Our focus was to stop their outside shot and put the ball in the paint,” Hill said. “We wanted to pressure their two shooters.”
The Vikings’ offensive attack lacked the typical high scoring of junior point guard Winsor Williams, who finished with only four points, but Williams was still a key factor by setting up scores with impressive assists.
St. Bernard stretched its lead to as much as 55-41 in the third quarter, but St. Joseph took advantage of more Viking turnovers and closed the gap to 58-51 heading into the final quarter.
Ceballos regained a double-digit lead for the Vikings after a three-pointer with 4:18 remaining in the game. St. Joseph did not go away and closed the gap to as little as three points after senior guard Ryan Adlesh scored nine of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter.
But the Vikings would not let the Knights take over the lead and held off St. Joseph with key free-throws in the final minute by Hill and senior forward Ron Houston.
Now that St. Bernard has reached the final four in Division IV-AA, the team must prove it is ready to take the title it narrowly missed last season.
“We expect to be back at LMU (Loyola Marymount University),” said Hill, referring to the site of the division championship.
“There are four teams left at this point so anything can happen,” Alaniz said. “Hopefully we’ll make our luck.”