By Cody Leist
SOUTH WEBSTER — Scott Rolfe warned his Valley basketball team during Thursday’s practice that a sluggish start to Friday night’s test at SOC II foe South Webster would lead to a dog fight.
The homestanding Jeeps jumped out and gave the divisional-leading Indians a scare thanks to a game-high 31 points from Levi Cook, but Valley’s scoring depth and patience proved to be too much in a 75-58 win. The contest featured four technical fouls. The Indians can clinch at least a share of the SOC II either with two wins against Waverly next week in a span of four days or a Minford loss in conference.
But before any of that could take place, Rolfe reflected on what he described as “the hardest-fought 18-point win” for his team all season.
“Maybe (we) didn’t express it enough and we discussed it again at halftime,” Rolfe said. “Again with this group, they are able to turn it up when it needs to be.”
Both teams struggled to find success to start the game as Cook’s free throws 2:04 into the contest broke the scoreless stalemate. South Webster found its grove late in the frame by connecting on five of its final nine shots of the frame and using a 13-4 run for a 17-8 lead heading into the second.
Valley responded early in the second quarter with a run of 9-1, five of the points coming off Jeep miscues. The Indians claimed their first lead of the contest with 2:16 left in the half off an Ethan Clark-Holbrook basket but six seconds later, Clark-Holbrook was whistled four a foul and then assessed a technical foul.
Rolfe said technical fouls are not unfamiliar with his team this season.
“We’ve had this discussion before because we’ve had two other ones earlier in the year where players have picked up a technical for questioning calls or whatever so we’ve had that discussion in the past,” Rolfe said. “When that happened tonight, we had that discussion again at halftime. You just have got to play through it and forget about it, whether you think it’s right or wrong, you’ve got to play through it and be mature about the situation.”
Cook made both attempts from the charity stripe to regain the lead. However, it was short lived as Valley finished the half on a 7-2 run and went into the locker room with a 32-28 lead.
The Indians’ lead grew to seven at the start of the third but South Webster still had fight left in them and Cook led the charge. The senior had eight of the team’s first 10 points in the second half and assisted on a Shane Zimmerman 3-pointer that gave the Jeeps a 41-39 lead.
But momentum swung back in Valley’s favor after the spurt. The Indians got a break when Denver Fuller was called for a technical moments after Hayden Dunn’s basket turned into a three-point play opportunity. The shift resulted in a 14-0 run to close out the third.
South Webster’s luck went from bad to worse when Brody Queen, who was matched up with Dunn for the night, fouled out 13 seconds into the final stanza. Just 1:08 later, Zimmerman was issued the Jeeps’ second technical of the night.
South Webster coach Ryan Fenton felt the calls stunted any chance of momentum that was available for his troops.
“Part of our inexperience is we’ve got to learn there to stop doing that, whatever the refs are saying don’t do, you don’t do it,” Fenton said. “You keep your mouth shut, you quit with the gestures, you just play the game of basketball.”
Bryan Rolfe missed both free throws but Valley’s lead expanded to a 57-46 advantage from a Dunn bucket, the first double-digit lead of the contest for the Indians.
Frustration started settling in for the Jeeps when Cook drew the final technical of the night with 3:20 remaining. Fenton didn’t like how his team played in the even-numbered quarters.
“I think a little bit of our inexperience and youth started to show there,” Fenton said. “It wasn’t just them, some of our upperclassmen did the same. But no matter what, they came up short, they were a heavy underdog and they knew this was a team that beat them by 40 at Valley.
“I thought we were able to keep fighting and we came up a little bit short but I’m proud of the kids because they faced what I think one of the best teams in the whole tri-state, at least in the area. They stuck with it and four a Division IV school and where our record stands, we’ve got to take some momentum going into (Saturday).”
Dunn led Valley with 20 points and 12 rebounds as the Indians had four in double figures for the contest. Jordan West added 12 points and was two rebounds shy of a double-double.
Scott Rolfe felt his senior tandem allowed Valley to tread water by hitting the glass.
“Both of them have done a really good job of rebounding this year,” Scott Rolfe said. “…That’s one of our keys, they get one shot or they get one chance to score and we take care of the rebound.”
Bryan Rolfe added 12 points and Ryan Brown chipped in with 11 in the victory. In all, eight players cracked the scoring column for the Indians.
But the Valley boss knows his team cannot give up uncontested shots in his team’s next two contests. South Webster was 9-of-22 from 3-point range.
“That’s Waverly’s specialty, making three balls,” Scott Rolfe said. “We definitely defensively have to close out, offensively clean it up and be a little more crisp and play with some more energy.”
The one who took advantage of the open looks was Cook, who was 8-of-19 from the field and 4-for-11 from beyond the arc. Fenton said Cook has only been back to full strength from a broken wrist for the past five games and since then, he has been a threat for a 30-point outing.
“He’s been unbelievable, I think he’s the best player in Division IV in the district and I’ll stand by my word, I hope the other coaches agree with that,” Fenton said. “Because what he’s doing against Division II and Division III schools, when every single school is trying to shut him down, is remarkable to me. It’s a true testament to his ability and character.”
The Jeeps turn around Saturday night to entertain Clay. Fenton said the contest with the Panthers, who beat Notre Dame 57-50 Friday night, was important for tournament purposes and to get his kids refocused after the defeat.
“We’ve got to start stringing some wins together now going into the tournament,” Fenton said.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or on Twitter @CodyLeist.
Valley 8 24 21 22 — 75
South Webster 17 11 16 14 — 58
Valley — Clark-Holbrook 4-0-8, Flowers 2-2-7, Rolfe 4-3-12, Shope 1-0-3, Brown 3-2-11, West 3-6-12, Dunn 9-2-20, K. Miller 1-0-2, Totals 28-15-75.
South Webster — Fields 1-0-3, Fuller 0-2-2, Cook 8-11-31, Zimmerman 2-0-5, Winters 2-0-4, Blevins 2-0-4, Queen 3-0-9, Totals 18-13-58.
3-Point Goals — Valley 4 (Flowers, Rolfe, Shope, Brown); South Webster 9 (Cook 4, Queen 3, Fields, Zimmerman).
Records — Valley 17-2 (11-0); South Webster 4-12 (1-9).