El Cajon Valley takes Grossmont Valley league title

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While those with triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13, boarded up windows for a safe night last Friday night, El Cajon Valley embraced the number’s aura against fellow Division III heavyweight Valhalla. With their 82-73 victory, the Braves guaranteed themselves sole possession of the Grossmont-Valley league title.

Head coach Marty Ellis said he was ecstatic.

“Regardless of what happens we will be league champs,” he said. “No matter what.”

While those with triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13, boarded up windows for a safe night last Friday night, El Cajon Valley embraced the number’s aura against fellow Division III heavyweight Valhalla. With their 82-73 victory, the Braves guaranteed themselves sole possession of the Grossmont-Valley league title.

Head coach Marty Ellis said he was ecstatic.

“Regardless of what happens we will be league champs,” he said. “No matter what.”

El Cajon Valley (19-5, 8-0 conf.) and the Norsemen (18-6, 5-3 conf.) put on a performance fit for MaxPreps’ top two San Diego Section D-III programs, although the nine-point margin might not reflect it.

After the Braves held a 57-42 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Valhalla junior Cole Henderson led a 12-4 run with three blocked shots to cut the deficit to five with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Henderson’s Norsemen and El Cajon Valley, led by senior Ibrahim Ali, traded punches until four minutes remained. Ali sunk a free throw to increase the Braves’ lead to 66-60 and Valhalla responded by storming down the court. Henderson tried to force his way into the paint, but Braves’ senior Dion Dean stripped the ball and fired an outlet pass to Ali. After missing his first attempt at a fast break layup, Ali pulled down the rebound and quickly released another shot. Time seemed to slow down as the shrill, earsplitting sound of the referee’s whistle rang through the air. He called a blocking foul on Henderson with the ball still on the first half of its arc.

Swish.

Ali converted the free throw with 3:32 left in the game to give the Braves the lead, 69-60. El Cajon Valley’s boisterous bleachers could sense that this was the final nail in the coffin, though Valhalla continued to press until the final whistle blew. Henderson finished the game with 22 points in a brilliant performance, though the game’s up-tempo style of play rewarded Ali with 33 points.

Even the halftime show was high-octane. After Daniel Watson and Jeffrey Rodriguez were awarded plaques for their perfect scores on the California High School Exit Exams, El Cajon Valley assistant principal Jason Babineau bested his Valhalla counterpart, assistant principal Eric Jesperson, in a free throw contest, although the gym’s energy paled in comparison to the scene at the end of the game.

A horde of grinning fans mobbed the Braves at center court. Ali could barely be heard over the obligatory recording of “We are the Champions” that echoed throughout the gym. Despite his offensive explosion, he credited Ellis and his assistants with the win.

“It’s all to our coaches,” said Ali. “They got us focused all week long and we were ready to play.”

While Ali and his teammates were celebrating with their classmates, the Norsemen scuttled back to the locker room. Henderson, with the flair of a heavyweight boxer, said he is already looking forward to the postseason and a potential rematch in the D-III playoffs.

“All I really care about is CIF,” he said. “They can be happy that they won that, but it’s something smaller than what we want.”

Ellis responded with a Don King-esque retort.

“I was upset because they streamed every home game when folks go over to Valhalla,” said Ellis. “Guess what game they didn’t stream? They didn’t stream this one. That was the first one against them. That’s what I told the guys, they literally think they’re just going to run over y’all. They think they can beat y’all. I don’t think they can.”

Ellis continued, saying it does not matter who they play, the goal remains the same — win CIF.

“We need to return to the scene of the crime because we lost in the semifinals last year,” he said. “We lost at the buzzer. Nobody believed that we were going to do anything.”

As unlucky as a last-second loss can feel, thirteen may just be El Cajon Valley’s lucky number. Aside from its Friday the 13th showing, a 61-36 drubbing of Valley Center in its 13th game kicked off a 12-game winning streak after a pedestrian 7-5 start.

 Unfortunately for Ellis, Ali and the rest of the Braves, the San Diego Section playoffs will end on March 7th, the week before the next Friday the 13th. Still, said Ellis, El Cajon Valley will play with the same tenacity regardless of the number marked on the calendar.

 “I don’t want to sound cocky, but these guys worked hard,” he said. “This school has been a doormat for years and years and years, but that is over.”

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