CALDWELL – In state tournament games, when the difference in talent level between teams is minimal, one small tweak can often make the difference between moving on to the next round and bumping to a consolation game.

That was the case in Valley’s 44-32 loss to Prairie in the 1A-DI State Tournament semifinals, as the Pirates switched to a zone defense that stifled the Vikings’ offense.

“It’s my fault. We were not prepared for their type of zone, their length,” said Valley head coach Brian Hardy. “We just didn’t get enough quality looks.”

“When they switched to that zone, we weren’t getting those looks anymore,” said Valley sophomore post Zane Mussmann.

Per Valley’s style of play, the game began slowly as the Vikings were patient offensively. Looking for the best shots, the ball skipped back and forth across the perimeter until an opportunity presented itself. The first such chance came when Jamin Fenton found himself wide open at the top of the key, and he buried the three-pointer.

“We rotated the ball really well,” Mussmann said. “We were getting some open looks and we had some good opportunities.”

Valley led for most of the opening quarter, and held a 10-8 cushion heading into the second.

It was much of the same as both teams hit clutch shots, with the lead see-sawing back and forth as the clock ticked toward the half. Ben Christensen did the most damage for the Vikings as he hit a trio of 3-pointers in the first two periods. Mussmann pitched in as well, as his presence down low opened things up for the Valley shooters.

“Ben is probably the most basketball-savvy guy out of any kid on the team,” Hardy said. “He’s seen a lot of basketball and he brings some good stuff for us.”

It was a slugfest in the waning minutes and the teams went into the locker room tied at 20.

It was at the half that Prairie made the decision to switch to a zone defense. The Pirates’ guards used their length to get their hands into passing lanes. They deflected passes to get steals and shored up the rebounding, both of which led to fast break opportunities on the other end.

Valley’s style was trumped by that of Prairie.

“The gaps they were able to cover with their length—that was something we weren’t used to,” Hardy said.

The Pirates outscored the Vikings 17-6 in the third period and led 37-26 heading into the fourth.

Valley went back to Mussmann as it tried to make a comeback, and the Vikings got back within 9 points in the latter half of the quarter. But it was too little, too late as Prairie iced the game from the free throw line.

“We can say that we didn’t shoot well, but we didn’t shoot well because we didn’t get the looks we needed to,” Hardy said.

Hunter Chaffee paced the Pirates with 15 points. Gavin Branson had 11 and Tyson Schlader had nine.

Valley got 12 points from Mussmann, nine from Christensen and seven from Fentin.

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The Vikings face a quick turnaround today as they return to Vallivue High School to take on Grace in the third-place game. They are looking forward to a chance to wash the taste out of their mouths.

“We still have (Saturday) to finish our season with a win,” Mussmann said. “It’s an opportunity to play the best game we can.”

“Winning the last game of the year is pretty special,” Hardy said. “We have a chance to go and do that (today). We’re going to try and play the game that we tried to play Friday.”

Prairie 44, Valley 32

Prairie; 8; 12; 17; 7;-44

Valley; 10; 10; 6; 6;-32

VALLEY (32)

Mussmann 12, Christensen 9, Fenton 7, Elorrieta 2, Carlquist 2 Totals: 11 6-7 32.

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