Highlands downs Valley for 1st section victory
When Highlands and Valley have played basketball over the past 46 seasons, it often has been for playoff position.
But on Saturday afternoon, the Highlands-Valley matchup presented a look at which team is further along in its rebuilding program.
A big second-quarter advantage by Highlands led to a 52-41 victory in a Section 1-AAA contest.
The Golden Rams outscored the host Vikings, 19-8, in the second period as Highlands won its fifth straight game on the New Kensington hardwood.
It was also the first section victory of the season for Highlands (5-7, 1-3). Valley slipped to 5-7, 1-5.
“In the summer league, we don't call fouls because we want to emulate that every time we play is a road game,” Golden Rams coach Tyler Stoczynski said.
“We're not looking to whine about any officiating. We're taught to play as hard as we can and no matter what happens, we have to stick together.”
Junior Kaison Branch came off the bench to score 13 points and equal his season's average.
“Kaison's one of those guys who, when he keeps his head in the game, he can be extremely effective,” Stoczynski said. “The one thing he's really done this year is mature, and, say if a call goes against him, battling his way through and getting ready for the next play.”
Sophomore Tyler Alworth chipped in 11 points.
Valley ended the first quarter with a 7-0 spurt to move within 13-12, but Highlands began to pull away in the second period.
“I felt like we were very flat to start the game,” Valley coach Mark Faulx said. “We dug ourselves a hole.
“We're not an offensive juggernaut just yet, so when we dig ourselves a hole we end up having a big problem getting back.”
Branch tallied seven points in the second period, while sophomore Jordan Lineburg made two free throws with 29 seconds left in the half to lift the Golden Rams to a 32-20 advantage at the intermission.
Vikings junior Caleb Davis got hot in the fourth period, scoring Valley's first seven points to cut the Golden Rams' lead to 44-37 with 4:11 to go. The Vikings couldn't get any closer.
Valley also struggled at the free-throw line, hitting 5 of 16 attempts.
“You've got to really win your home games in the section,” Laulx said.
“This one certainly hurts, but it's just one game and we'll regroup, get back to practice and learn from this.”
Davis and junior Tyson Hill fouled out in the fourth quarter, quashing any thoughts of a late Valley comeback.
Hill scored three field goals, each on strong offensive rebounds.
Sophomore Lavontae Martin corralled 11 rebounds to lead the Golden Rams.
Highlands visits Freeport on Tuesday before returning home for a makeup game against Mars on Wednesday.
Valley is off until Friday when it visits Mars.
George Guido is a freelance writer.