Boys’ Basketball Emerges Victorious at the Santa Maria Holiday Tournament


Len Wood / Santa Maria Times

Vikings Andy Zhao (left) and Albert Zhu (right) defend and set up to pack against a Panther player.

Reclaiming records, Irvington’s boys’ varsity basketball team defeated Pioneer Valley High School in the championship game with a score of 54-52, to win the Santa Maria Holiday Tournament on Dec. 27. This monumental win serves as the first tournament win for the boys’ basketball team in the past twenty years.

“We’ve been working since summer. It wasn’t specifically in preparation for the tournament but we all know that by the time winter comes, we have a big stream of games that it becomes important to win,” captain Braxton Carlson (11) said. “We also had specific game plans going into each game. For one team, we focused on outside shooting, but for the most part, we ran the same offenses and defenses. The strategy was shaped as game changes and there are a lot of things in the moment.”

While the practices leading up to the tournament were not focused on specific skills, Coach Ron Littleton emphasized that the majority of practices were devoted to having the players execute the different plays under the element of pressure, to better prepare for the high-stakes environment of the tournament.

The team crushed Lindsay High School 71-46 in the opening game of the tournament and later on went to beat Miramonte with a final score of 72-46. The Vikings also defeated the home team, Santa Maria, with a score of 62-51. All of the games led up to the final game against Pioneer Valley where underdog Irvington emerged as the winner after trailing Pioneer Valley for the majority of the game.

The championship game was different from most of the games the team was used to, especially as players on the opposing team relied more on brute strength rather than strategy.

The Vikings’ lack of adequate defense in the first half left some of the Pioneer Valley players wide open to score, leading to an early lead by the opposing team. Irvington was down eight points by the end of the first half due to this initial lack of contact coupled with overly-aggressive playing on behalf of Pioneer Valley.

“The players tried to bully us in the first quarter, but by the second and third quarter, we stepped up to our guns and we just fought through it. We changed up our plays a bit and I told the boys that they weren’t going to get calls because the referee wasn’t paying attention to the abuse on the sidelines.”

Additionally, the frequent fouls, five called on the Vikings in the first three minutes of the game alone, rendered the flow of the game as very choppy. However, by the second half, not only was the game more fast-paced, but the team also attacked more. The game’s lead scorer was Andy Zhao (12), who contributed 15 of the total 54 points. With the game neck-to-neck by the fourth quarter, Irvington maintained their two point lead through a strong show of defense and heavy rebounding.

“The boys had great mental and physical strength. I told them that discipline was what ultimately made them to win the tournament,” Littleton said.

With league tournaments approaching, the team understands the importance of working on these shortcomings. Practices have become more tailored towards one-on-one or two-on-two defense, rather than running a complete game.

“We have had a very good pre-season, but we’ve had a lot of injuries coming back. The discipline and skills are all there, and we aren’t even at our full capacity yet,” said Littleton.