KINGSBURG - With two games left in the regular season, the margin of error is slim for the Kingsburg Vikings if the team wants to compete in the playoffs next week.
The team took one step closer of its postseason dreams after defeating the Exeter Monarchs 68-50 in the Vikings final home game of the season on Feb. 1.
“I’m glad the night went the way it did [for the seniors],” Kingsburg head coach Todd Brown said. “They came out and played well. They deserved to have that type of game on this top of night, so I was glad they got that.”
It was final home for seniors CJ Laita and Elijah Brumfield, who both said it “felt great” to get a dominating win while playing on their floor for the final time.
“Some bad things happened in the first quarter, but we just pushed through it and we got it done,” Laita said.
“Last year, I didn’t play much as a junior and our team wasn’t as good,” Brumfield said. “Coming back as a senior with a lot bigger role than last year, it felt good getting a win and having a [better] record this year.”
Laita and Brumfield were the team’s only seniors on the team.
The win improved the Vikings to 12-13 overall and 5-6 in Central Sequoia League play.
Heading into the regular-season finale against Selma (6-21, 0-11 in CSL) on Tuesday (after press time), Kingsburg needed to end the season with a game to improved to a .500 record. The Vikings needed a .500 record to compete for the playoffs. It could be the program's first playoff appearance under Brown.
“I want this group to get some playoff experience,” Brown said. “That’s what we have to do, so it’s the most important game of the year. Every game out from here is the most important game of the year.”
Kingsburg had a fast start in the first quarter going on a 17-3 run and would hold the Monarchs to single digits, ending the opening period with a 19-9 lead.
After a 31-23 halftime lead, the Vikings started to take control of the game by outscoring Exeter 20-10 in the third quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Kingsburg made it an 18-point game with an 51-33 lead. After not relinquishing the lead, the Vikings’ dominating night would be capped off with a dunk by Kaden Tate late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s the first dunk here in a minute,” Laita said about Tate’s dunk. “He’s been able to dunk since last year, so yeah he finally got one. We’ve been setting up plays [to him] all year.”
“That’s the first time dunked in this gym on the Kingsburg team in a long time,” Brumfield added. “I was excited for him.”
The Vikings led throughout the entire game with its largest lead at 22 points (68-46) in the third quarter and its slimmest margin at four points (27-23) in the second.
Laita scored 10 points against Exeter and was one of three double-digit scorers for Kingsburg. The other double-digit scorers were Nate Towsley and Jason Gunn, who both tied for a team-high 13 points. Brumfield scored six points in his final home game.
Coming into the season, Laita was slated to be the starting point guard after growing into the role midway through last season.
“He comes to work every day,” Brown said about Laita. “We know what we're going to get out of CJ. He plays through injuries, he leads us, he wants to win. He’s a great point guard to have.”
Brown said Brumfield improved as a senior this season, which made him earn a starting role before the year started.
“He’s earned everything he’s gotten, he’s worked hard,” Brown said about Brumfield. “He’s matured so much over the past four years and he’s worked hard on his game, his character and I feel good about him whenever he’s out there. He does the right things and he’s one of our smartest players.”
Before the finale against Selma, Kingsburg was aiming for its first sweep over the Bears since the 2011-12 season. In the first meeting between the two rivals, the Vikings defeated Selma 97-70 on Jan. 16. It was Kingsburg’s first win over the Bears since the 2013-14 season.