State basketball: Valencia pulls away in second half to win Division IV boys’ title

State basketball: Valencia pulls away in second half to win Division IV boys’ title

Bryce Bedgood plucked a rebound out of the air, flung an outlet pass up to teammate Mikah Ballew, and stopped for a moment. He’d done his job.

Ballew and Jacob Michel-Zavala had a two-on-two in transition late in the second quarter against Half Moon Bay in the Division IV boys’ basketball state championship game, and an overwhelming physical advantage. As Ballew went into a euro-step, Bedgood’s half-hearted jogs back up the court slowed to a halt.

That wasn’t the mentality that got Valencia here, that turned a 7-9 start — coming off a 5-20 season — into a dominant run to a Southern Section Division 4AA title and Saturday’s berth in the state final. And it certainly wasn’t the mentality that father and coach Bill Bedgood tried to instill all these years in his sprouting 6-foot-9 beanpole of a son.

So as Michel-Zavala loaded up for a corner three, Bryce Bedgood galloped back down the court like a runaway gazelle, obliterated a Half Moon Bay player half his size trying to box him out, snared the rebound over another Cougars player and finished a tough put-back layup.

It was a microcosm of Bedgood’s season, a kid who admitted he used to stumble over his own limbs maximizing a growth spurt — four inches over the course of the season — through sheer effort. And in leading Valencia to an 89-59 win and Division IV state title, he closed out a lifelong journey with his dad, the elder Bedgood walking away with a trophy in the final game of his coaching career.

“What’s more important to me is just being a dad,” Bill Bedgood said postgame, the 6-foot-6 veteran coach’s eyes turning red. “And I think being a dad makes you a better coach. But I don’t know if being a coach makes you a better dad, always.”

Coaching Bryce was the hardest thing he’d done as a coach. It was hard in that 5-20 season, having to stomach all the losing. It was hard on Bryce, who simply said playing for his dad was great but often he had to stand up to his father to not look like a “suck-up.”

It was still hard when the calendar changed to 2023, and that 7-9 record was all the Vikings could think about, Bryce said. All they could bring up. So in their first practice in the new year, coach Bedgood had his players sit in a circle and write basketball-inspired resolutions on a piece of paper — how they each felt they could help a program spinning its wheels.

Bryce, a cerebral kid with a 4.3 grade-point average and Ivy League hopes, kept it simple. Focus on the defensive end. Buy into a big-man role. Grab every rebound and push the pace constantly.

“How can you affect the game positively without the ball in your hands?” Bryce described.

On Saturday, he was a swirling mass of arms around the rim, spiking away Half Moon Bay layups like a cruel dad playing Nerf hoops against a 3-year-old. After a valiant display of ball movement and shooting from the Cougars produced a tie score at the end of the first quarter, Bryce’s effort became the difference in the Vikings pulling away, culminating in the second-quarter hustle putback.

“Even 7-9, halfway through the year, I would’ve not made the play, cause I’d be lazy,” Bryce said. “But I just know that I’ve got to run the floor and play hard all the time.”

He got going offensively in the second half, showcasing fine footwork and touch in finishing with 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Ballew, who had transferred from Bishop Alemany, scored 25 points, and point guard Kai Davis added a steady hand with 17 points and eight assists.

After the game, Bryce spoke highly of his dad, and the coach offered a genuine smile and a soft tap on his son’s leg. Time to put down the clipboard. Time to just be a father.

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