East County Sports

Epic season continues for Norsemen

Valhalla's EVAN O'NEILL and JOE AVALOS position on the rebound Tuesday night.




By Ramon Scott


EL CAJON – The window was closing for Valhalla’s EVAN O’NEILL, TREVONE WIMS and MICAH CAMPOS.

The promise among the Norsemen classmates was that they would return the school’s basketball program to championship status by their senior year.

But after O’Neill sat out the basketball season during his junior year and with the Norsemen coming off just a six-win campaign, just getting the team back on track may have seemed like the goal for head coach KEITH JACKSON coming into the school year.

But that changed with the addition of seniors JORDAN GAINES and DOMANIC SAFARTA.

The Norsemen not only became contenders for a league championship – winning the circuit for the first time in over 20 years – but maybe even the school’s first-ever boys section title, as well.

On Tuesday, Valhalla earned a spot in a section final for just the second time by outscoring visiting Del Norte, 20-9, in the fourth quarter to take a 54-44 San Diego CIF Division III semifinal win at a rocking Thunderdome.

This was no 10-point game despite the final outcome.

Valhalla’s MICAH CAMPOS and EVAN O’NEILL (33) defend against Del Norte.

Valhalla, however, did score the last nine points of the game after the Nighthawks traded the lead for the final time of the night with under four minutes to play.

Valhalla, the No. 2-seed in the tournament, will meet fourth-seeded San Diego High, 79-68 winners over top-seeded Sweetwater, on Thursday at 7:30 at Mira Mesa High School for the section division championship.

Gaines kept Valhalla in the contest in the first half, scoring 20 of his team’s 23 points, as the score was knotted at 23-all at intermission.

Gaines would finish the night with 28 points.

The Norsemen led most of the first half, but Del Norte assumed the lead on a dunk. Then the Nighthawks came out strong in the second half to take a five-point lead, 30-25, with 4:40 left in the third.

The visitors maintained a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

MICAH CAMPOS is congratulated during the fourth quarter.

However, a pair of back door layups thrilled the crowd and put the Norsemen into the lead, then sophomore JOE AVALOS hit a pair three-pointers in the second half and the momentum had the capacity-filled gym feeling the lead.

O’Neill also knocked down a patented Valhalla three-balla during the heat of the fourth. He finished with 13 points.

Safarta was stymied in the first half, but the attention allowed Gaines room to roam. Safarta ended with eight points and eight assists.

Valhalla returns to its first title game since its first berth back in 2015. El Cajon Valley defeated the Norsemen, who were led by JACOB HAMMETT and JORDAN ELLIS, in the Division III section title game, 61-49.

CLAIREMONT 71, LIBERTY CHARTER 46 – The Chieftains ended the terrific season by the Lions in the San Diego CIF Division V semifinals on Tuesday night.

The game was close in the first half.

After battling to a 13-all tie through one period, the Lions trailed just 32-28 at intermission despite falling behind by double digits midway through the second quarter.

Sophomore JONAH BELPREZ scored 14 points in the first half for Liberty Charter (15-12)

JAMES ZUNIGA added nine points for LCHS.

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