The WCI Vikings did not lose a single game in regulation during their trip to the Northwest Desert Classic in Arizona.
Unfortunately for the Vikes, that's because two of their games went to OT and ended up in the loss column during their trip south of the border. Nevertheless, WCI finished up the trip with a 3-2 record and captured the "third place championship" on Thursday morning in Arizona.
WCI's first game back on Tuesday was against La Mirada (a suburb of Los Angeles) High School. WCI led that game by 4 points late in the contest but two key three pointers down the stretch and some missed foul shots by the Vikings allowed the game to end up 41-41 at the end of regulation.
In the extra frame, WCI ran out of gas (possibly as a result of the altitude) and lost by a 49-42 final. Jacob Ranton (16 PTS, 6 REB) and Alex Copp (11 PTS, 7 REB) were WCI's top players on Tuesday.
The loss put WCI behind the "8-ball" so to speak, as their second game was against a talented Poston Butte squad, who feature 6'9" Arizona State signee Maurice Kirby, as well as another player with D-1 capabilities, guard Jalen Richard.
Though the Vikes trailed 17-9 after one quarter, they battled back to take a 1-point lead by the fourth quarter. Late in the game, WCI trailed by 2 but Adam Anagnostopoulos was able to break down his defender and feed Zach Totzke who made a contested layup as time expired to tie things up at 51-51.
However, overtime was again WCI's nemesis as they dropped the game (63-60) after the extra session. Ranton again led the way (20 PTS, 5 REB) while Copp added 13 points and 8 rebounds.
WCI rebounded to close out pool play with a victory, 49-33 over Tucson Sunnyside. Ranton (17 PTS, 7 REB) and Copp (16 PTS, 6 REB) were again tops on the scoresheet.
La Mirada went on to win the pool (2-1) while Poston Butte was also 2-1 and WCI and Sunnyside 1-2. Ties were broken based upon "head to head" games, so WCI was awarded third place in the pool.
This placed the Vikes in the "third place bracket" with the other three teams who finished third in their pools.
Their semifinal game was against Desert Christian from Tucson and, in a grinding affair, the Vikes took a 39-35 win thanks to strong play from Copp (16 PTS, 6 REB) and Anagnostopoulos (6 PTS, 4 REB). In addition, Alex Despotovic hit a buzzer-beating three pointer to give WCI a 5 point lead to end the first half.
In the championship game of the third-place bracket, WCI was up against Mesa (AZ) Westwood High School. It was an extremely tough battle in the early going, with both teams playing great defense --- the score was 4-4 after the first! However, as the game wore on, the Vikes executed well against Westwood's half-court pressure and were able to pull away in the fourth quarter en route to a 34-22 final.
Anagnostopoulos led the way for WCI with 10 points and 7 rebounds, while grade 11 forward Malcolm Piazza had 8 points and 4 rebounds.
Overall, WCI co-coach Craig Nickel was pleased with his team's effort down south.
"The basketball part of this trip has seen some extremely positive developments for us as individual players and as a team, and we'll hope to carry this momentum back with us when we return to WCSSAA league play (this week)," said Nickel.
The Vikings first league game after the break will be on Thursday (January 6th) at 3:30pm at home against one of the most improved teams in the WCSSAA league this season, the Glenview Park Panthers. This will be an important game for the Vikes, as the "Elmira Bye Win" is next on their schedule and would give WCI a solid 5-3 record heading into a key matchup with Grand River on January 13th.