U-Prep senior Mark Stephens shoots over West Valley’s Sean Proscher in the fourth quarter in the Northern Section Division IV championship played at Butte College Friday. (Photo by Eddie Saltzman).
OROVILLE –- The West Valley Eagles couldn’t have been any colder from the field in the first half, and the U-Prep Panthers couldn’t have been more resilient in the second half.
The Eagles were 2-of-23 shooting in the first 16 minutes of play and the Panthers found ways to staunch mini-runs by West Valley en route to a 53-42 Northern Section Division IV boys title – the program’s first. All Shasta County playoff coverage is sponsored by Redding Rancheria.
West Valley (23-7), which has arguably four of the best distance shooters in the section, was held to two points in the opening period on two free throws from Sean Proscher. Before the game, Eagles coach James O’Brien prophetically said the first few minutes would tell the tale of how the night might go, saying if his squad was on then look out.
“I think we played really good defense and got hands up in their faces,” said U-Prep point guard Kaden Jones, who led the Panthers with 18 points.
The Eagles finally got a field goal to drop on the first attempt of the second quarter when Proscher slipped a screen and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key. But it was few and far between and Tyler Chan’s triple was the only other field goal of the half as Lambert Salvatierra’s two freebies comprised all the West Valley points.
“We knew we had to come in shooting well to beat U-Prep,” Proscher said. “The nerves probably got to us. They hit bigger shots than we did.”
And controlled the paint as Mark Stephens, the player, grabbed rebound after rebound in the first half off Eagles’ miscues.
Up 24-10 at half, Mark Stephens, the coach, said he knew the Eagles weren’t just going to go away.
Salvatierra hit a runner in the lane to open the second half and then canned a trey on the ensuing possession – a harbinger of things to come as West Valley would go on mini runs only to have the Panthers’ clamp down defensively.
And while U-Prep’s collective defensive effort was superb, Kevin Cox, a junior varsity call-up after the season-ending injury to Tanner Stephens, stepped up and went toe-to-toe with Salvatierra, one of the section’s top points.
“He was our only hope,” coach Stephens said of the sophomore Cox. “We asked ‘Who can do the best job defending him?’ and it was Kevin. He’s got a nose for the ball and he answered the call.”
With Salvatierra being blanketed by Cox and Proscher having Trevor Jones reside in his hip pocket, Kaden Jones was able to create havoc, causing turnovers and leading the break on the other end.
Up 33-23 to start the fourth period, Kaden Jones stole a pass near the free throw line – after a West Valley player missed a wide-open Proscher cutting to the hole – and took the swipe coast-to-coast for a 35-23 edge.
But West Valley didn’t go away, choosing to pressure U-Prep into a running, up-and-down game. Mike Smith hit a bucket in the paint and hit the and-one free throw to cut it to seven and a few possessions later Salvatierra’s two free throws cut the U-Prep lead to 36-31. The Eagles cut the edge to three with a drive down the lane after a U-Prep timeout.
“They got it to five and then three and I didn’t want get in an up-and-down game with them,” coach Mark Stephens said. “We definitely didn’t want to get in a 3-point shooting contest with them.”
So the coach slowed the tempo and had his squad start banging down low with its trifecta of post players – Stephens, Logan Hawes and Jordan Miller.
After Salvatierra cut the lead to three, Stephens hit a pair of free throws, setting up perhaps the biggest shot in U-Prep history.
Kaden Jones rebounded a Salvatierra miss and raced down the floor on a 4-on-1 break – with West Valley having the four and Jones being the one. The Panthers senior dribbled through traffic and hit the left corner, where he pulled up for a 3-pointer.
Money. And an eight-point U-Prep lead with a little over 3 minutes to play.
And to follow that up, Trevor Jones blocked Salvatierra at the free throw line and took the swiped ball coast-to-coast to build the Panthers’ lead back to 10.
West Valley would cut the edge to eight and six, but never seriously threatened the rest of the way as U-Prep hit 8-of-10 free throws in the final 1:42 to ice the championship.
“They hit bigger shots than we did,” Proscher said.
#3 U-Prep 53, #1 West Valley 42
U-Prep – 7, 17, 9, 20 —53
West Valley – 2, 8, 13, 19—42
U-Prep – Cox 1, Hawes 5, Miller 8, T. Jones 10, Stephens 11, K. Jones 18.
West Valley – Scholberg 2, Larkins 2, Smith 3, Chan 4, Salvatierra 13, Proscher 16.
3-Pointers: U-Prep -– 4: Stephens, Miller, K. Jones (2), T. Jones (2); WV — 3: Salvatierra, Proscher (2).
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