Mark Stephens of U-Prep dribbles the ball against West Valley Friday night. (T.J. Holmes/Shasta County Sports)
U-Prep entered Friday night’s homecoming game in a dire situation, facing the top team in the Northern Athletic League without its leading scorer and last year’s league MVP.
The Panthers found a way to answer the challenge, coming away with a 59-54 win over visiting West Valley to even themselves atop the NAL standings with the Eagles with two games to play.
“Last game, one our main players (Tanner Stephens – broken wrist) got injured so we had to get the ‘Dub’ for him,” said U-Prep’s Kaden Jones, who scored 14 points. “We showed out for him and showed out for our fans and everyone here.”
Trailing by two with less than a minute to go, U-Prep’s Trevor Jones drove the lane for an and-1 layup to go up 55-54 with 57 seconds left. Lambert Salvatierra’s 15-foot jumper rimmed out and Kaden Jones made the front-end of a 1-and-1 to go up two. West Valley got the ball to leading scorer Sean Proscher in the post but he put too much muscle behind his contested shot and Logan Hawes cleaned up a free throw miss from Mark Stephens for an and-1 putback with eight seconds left to keep the Panthers’ NAL title hopes alive.
“It’s a great feeling to seal the win against a team we’ve lost to and we know we can beat but haven’t really been able to,” said Hawes.
Not only did U-Prep finish the game emphatically, the Panthers got off to a hot-shooting start. U-Prep led by as many as nine in the first half but saw that erased thanks to an 11-1 second-quarter run from West Valley fueled by a Proscher’s eight-foot jumper and Will Larkins’ shot from downtown. But it was Trevor Jones with the corner 3 and Hawes inside to put U-Prep up 32-28 at half.
Tyler Chan and Proscher book-ended a Trevor Jones 3 early in the third but the Panthers pulled away with an 11-2 run highlighted by Kevin Cox’s trey and Trevor Jones’ layup to go up 10.
West Valley cut the deficit to six by the start of the fourth and flipped the scoreboard with a 10-2 run thanks to a bucket each from Proscher and Larkins before big man Mason Geren hit a momentum swinging 3 to go up two with 1:54 remaining.
But that would be the final point for West Valley as the Panthers scored the next five points to hold off the Eagles despite high-percentage shots from Salvatierra and Proscher at the end.
“I felt like we spent all of our energy trying to get back,” West Valley coach James O’Brien said. “Twice in the game it came down to the top and we didn’t have a little extra oomph at the end and (U-Prep) did.”
West Valley’s Proscher fought his way to a game-high 22 points while Tyler Chan added 17 points in the loss.
Trevor Jones dropped 18 points to lead the Panthers.
“We knew we had it in us,” Hawes said. “We had to come in and just work.”
West Valley wraps up the regular season with home dates against Central Valley and Yreka while U-Prep is at Yreka and hosts Lassen. The Eagles are looking for their first NAL title since 2010-11 while the Panthers are trying to go back-to-back.
U-Prep 59, West Valley 54
West Valley 13-15-16-10—54
West Valley (7-1 NAL, 19-6): Proscher 22, Chan 17, Larkin 5, Smith 5, Geren 5.
U-Prep (7-1, 20-6): T. Jones 18, K. Jones 14, Hawes 10, Cox 8, Stephens 6, Rudolph 3.
3-pointers—West Valley 6 (Chan 3, Proscher, Larkin, Gereth); U-Prep 7 (T. Jones 3, Cox 2, K. Jones, Rudolph).
Team NAL, Overall
West Valley 7-1, 19-6
U-Prep 7-1, 20-6
Lassen 4-4, 13-13
Yreka 2-5, 10-13
Central Valley 2-6, 11-15
Anderson 1-6, 9-15