TWIN FALLS — The Valley High School boys basketball team experienced some omens going into Friday’s Snake River Conference title game.
In the last drill of practice Thursday night, Vikings junior guard Fabian Juarez sprained his ankle, likely forcing him to miss the rest of the season, according to coach Brian Hardy. On Friday in PE class, senior forward Ben Christensen took some jumps shots and “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” he said.
And the Vikings were preparing for Oakley, the only conference team to beat them all season.
None of that mattered. Valley pulled away from Oakley late to earn a 64-54 district championship win Friday night at the College of Southern Idaho. The Vikings earned their second straight SRC title.
“This is kinda what we expected,” Christensen said. “We have a bigger goal coming up next week.”
Valley crushed Oakley 57-37 in Hazelton on Jan. 12, but the Hornets upended the Vikings in Oakley on Feb. 7, 52-48 in overtime.
“There are times when you think you’re moving right along and everything’s great,” Hardy said. “They had to refocus. They knew all along Oakley was a threat, so I don’t think they were taking it for granted.”
Valley knew Friday’s game wouldn’t be easy, and for most of the night, it wasn’t.
Oakley had a strong first quarter but ended it in a 15-15 tie thanks to a Christensen 3-pointer seconds before the buzzer sounded. Valley led by as many as seven points in the second quarter, but the Hornets came back and trailed 31-30 in the final seconds. Once again, Christensen hit a 3 before the buzzer.
Christensen and Hardy can’t prove that those 3s changed the outcome or even changed the momentum. But at the very least, they were six more points to work with.
Valley built a bit of distance in the third quarter and led 46-40 going into the fourth. Oakley didn’t go away until about midway through the quarter. Christensen, who scored a team-high 20 points on six 3s, nailed what felt like a dagger: a 3 to put Valley up 54-44 with 5:32 left.
“I didn’t really have to hesitate or anything,” Christensen said. “The net seemed big today.”
Jason Hardy and Zane Mussman both added 13 points for Valley.
Gannon Critchfield led Oakley with 19 points, and Jayden Palmer added 18, which were all scored in the first half.
Valley (17-5) will face Riverstone (17-7) in the first round of the 1A Division I state tournament. That game is scheduled to tip off at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at Vallivue High School.
The Vikings fell to Grace in the third-place game of last year’s state tournament.
“We can compete with anyone there,” Christensen said. “We’re all hungry to go do it. I think we’ve got the right mix of guys this year.”
Oakley (12-10) will take on Glenns Ferry Saturday in a loser-out/winner-to-state game. The winner of that game will face Grace in the first round at state.