There was an interesting dynamic involving Tuesday night’s boys basketball game between Escondido Charter and host Valley Center High.
Coming into the contest, the White Tigers had already gotten a successful jump on the new season, having won four of five outings, including impressive victories over Liberty Charter and Maranatha Christian in which EC scored 82 points or more.
As for the Jaguars, their circumstance was vastly different; having yet to play a game that counted. And truth be told, based upon what he had seen in practice, VC head coach Jon Jones wasn’t at all sure what he would get out of his Jags or how they would respond in their opener against EC.
So on the surface it appeared that the W. Tigers, with obviously more game experience and on a bit of a roll, owned an edge that they hoped to exploit over an opponent that had yet to get its feet wet.
But like they say, that’s why you play the game because you never know just what might happen. And in an overall performance that made them look as if they were in midseason form, the Jags delivered an effort that wowed many in the crowd en route to a breathtaking 88-67 victory. “In our first game against a good opponent,” said Jones, “I never would have expected us to score that many points.”
EC’s coach David Vidosic had his own perspective on what had transpired, giving full credit to the surprising Jags. “They just shot the lights out,” explained Vidosic, “and they outhustled us. To be honest, when we score 67 points, I fully expect to win.”
Playing with conspicuous want-to, exerting effective defensive pressure and pouring in what seemed to be hoop after hoop, the Jags seized a lead late in the first period and from there on were never headed. Paced by the gritty inside work of junior Kenny Garcia and the outside sharpshooting of Ethan Bachman, each of whom tallied 17 points, VC found an offensive rhythm that seemed never ending. Also contributing in a big way to that scoring flow were Zach Reser and Issac Contreras, who posted 13 and 10 points respectively.
And though Esco Charter got genuine production from their senior captain Bryson Bergquist (18 pts.), heralded sophomore guard Tristan Hernandez (13 pts.) and the team’s leading scorer Anthony Ferrara (12 points), it wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with VC’s onslaught. For much of the contest, the visitors were clearly waging an uphill battle.
No one could have known that when Charter’s talented Hernandez netted a floater to put his club up 15-14 well into the first quarter, it would mark the last time that EC would hold a lead. Thanks to a layup and putback by Malachi Avila and a Reser chippie, the Jags finished the period strong and owned a 20-15 margin after 12 minutes.
And then VC really went to work, creating huge separation by outscoring the W. Tigers 29-17 in the second stanza. Bachman was simply stellar during this run as he nailed a pair of corner 3s, drilled another trey from straightaway and then finished things off with a sweet reverse layup. Garcia was also a major influence as he authored a deft floater, a stroked baseline jumper and an artful scoop shot. Moreover, VC got a nice boost off the bench from sophomore Jayton Schwindt who found the range on two bombs from downtown.
Knowing that they needed to make a strong push in the third period to get back in the hunt and cut into a sizable 49-32 halftime deficit, the W. Tigers did exactly that. With five different players contributing points, EC gamely closed to within 51-43. But courtesy of Bachman – who drained a free throw, converted a layup and then hit on a step-back jumper – the Jags regained control and finished off the period with a 9-2 spurt.
Early in the final period, EC’s Bergquist flipped a nifty shot off the glass and after being fouled, he sank a free throw to complete a 3-point play that drew EC to within 60-48. But alas, the visitors got no closer for the balance of the contest. That’s because Reser continued to bring it with a beautiful tip-in, a trifecta from the right corner and a nice runner while Garcia scored on a couple of close-in shots. And had it not been for the active Bergquist, who continually drew fouls down the stretch that resulted in him swishing home eight consecutive shots from the charity stripe, the final margin of 88-67 would have been even more substantial.
Though Charter’s coach Vidosic wasn’t happy with his team’s lack of physicality and toughness against the Jags, he remained exceedingly high on his players. “Without a doubt, this team has the highest basketball IQ, is the most talented and is the deepest squad I’ve ever had,” he said with conviction. “This group has the chance to be really special and ultimately make a deep run in the playoffs.”
As for coach Jones, he was genuinely encouraged with what he saw in his team’s initial outing. “I was really pleased,” he said. “I told the guys not to be timid and they certainly weren’t. They were fired up, played hard and really got after it.”
Jones was also heartened by the way his team handled itself in transition and the tempo at which it operated. “This group likes to play fast,” he said.
But the VC coach is well aware that his squad is very much a work in progress, with many variables yet to be sorted out. In addition, the Jags will have to soldier on without the services of gutsy guard Frank Stehly, who is gone for the season due to recent knee surgery. “That’s a big loss because Frank is such a competitive and tough kid,” Jones said.
In the next couple of weeks, the Jags will be playing eight games in a compressed two weeks and during this stretch Jones expects to get a more definitive read on his club. “Hey look, there’s no doubt that we need to really grow as a unit and in some regards, we are kind of raw,” he admitted. “But I’m excited about this team. I see a lot of potential, a lot of possibilities.”
Based on the impressive way his Jags started their season versus EC, Jones truly has reason to feel that way.