Cleveland attains first place in a 63-52 win over top-ranked Birmingham in a West Valley League duel


The stakes couldn’t be higher as the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Birmingham Patriots on Wednesday, January 31, 2024 with first place on the line. Birmingham came into the contest winners of eight of their last nine games, establishing themselves as the top ranked team in the L.A. City Section Division I. The Patriots had an opportunity to clinch the West Valley League league title against league rival Cavaliers, who were still in the hunt despite having lost to Birmingham just 12 days prior. The two squads battled it out in a physical game that resulted in a halftime standstill before the Cavaliers pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 63-52 by locking down on the defensive end and capitalizIng off forced turnovers.

The Patriots shot 52% from the field in their 61-44 win in their first matchup on their home floor with the Cavaliers on January 19th. Cleveland responded in Wednesday’s game coming out in a 2-3 zone to keep Birmingham out of the paint to force perimeter shots. The strategy worked as the Cavaliers held the Patriots to only ten points in the first quarter.

“We decided to go zone, our goal was to keep them on top [side] of the court”, according to Cleveland Head Coach Dagem Asfaw, “It worked perfectly.”

Cleveland took a slim 11-10 lead into the 2nd quarter as both teams were actively contesting shots at the rim with bodies flying around. Birmingham began to enforce their will on the offensive glass using the size of team captain Ryan Sostman to earn second-chance points. Their efforts to slow the game down and wear down the Cavaliers brought the game to a 22-22 halftime stalemate. 

Birmingham took a slim 28-24 lead early in the 3rd quarter before Cleveland began to force turnovers by trapping dribble penetration and smothering hands defending the interior. The Cavaliers capitalized off of the turnovers by going on a 16-4 run to take an eight-point lead. Senior Souljah Niles added 8 of his 18 points in the third quarter, as he assertively attacked the rim any chance he could.

The Cavaliers led 42-36 heading into the fourth quarter, where they finally got their shooters going with junior guard Kamari King drilling two big triples to start the quarter. Asfaw identified the keys to exploiting the Patriots’ zone defense, “Being able to get into the middle of the court in the paint & kick the ball out to shooters was a key plan of ours and important for us.”

Freshman guard T.J. Wansa added 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, as the Cavaliers put away the Patriots 63-52 to claim first place in the West Valley League. The West Valley League Championship ended with Birmingham and Cleveland as co-champions following the Patriots edging out the Granada Hills Highlanders 64-62 and the Cavaliers requiring overtime to overcome the Chatsworth Chancellors 74-69. Both teams finished league play at 8-2.

By virtue of their victory over Birmingham, and their overall record of 17-9, Cleveland secured the top seed in the Open Division of the CIF City Section Playoffs. The Cavaliers will host Los Angeles CES. Birmingham is the #3 seed at 16-12 overall and will host the sixth seeded Grant Lancers. The quarterfinals of the Open Division get underway on Friday, February 9 with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

*All photographs provided courtesy of VST intern Benjamin Becher

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