PORTLAND — Before Valley Regional coach Kevin Woods could praise his own players, who had just delivered his 200th career win, he had to send his regards to the coach he opposed Monday night.
“I have to just tip my hat to David Bradbury and the job he’s done at this school,” Woods said after Valley rallied from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit to defeat Portland 64-60. “I know this is a tough one for him and I know he wanted this one bad, and I would have too if I was in his shoes, but I’m as proud of him as I am with our program tonight.”
Bradbury, a first-year varsity coach who had the Highlanders on a four-game winning streak before the Shoreline Conference loss, was a starter for Woods on the Valley teams that reached back-to-back Class S championship games in 2014 and 2015.
He came back to his alma mater last year as Valley’s freshman coach and spent varsity games basically shoulder to shoulder with Woods, who is in his 12th season.
After Monday’s game, the admiration flowed in both directions.
“It means a lot to have that coaching tree branch out,” Woods said after his young team won for the fifth time in seven games. “It’s special to watch the guys you’re close with be successful. His kids played so hard and I admire what he’s got them doing. It’s what we tried to get going here when our program was not where we wanted it to be. He’s a special person in my heart and it means more to me that he’s successful than anything.”
Said Bradbury: “Playing against my previous high school coach and all the coaches on staff (Anthony Pagano, Scott Harger, Lou Rolon and Brad Pitman) aided me in my journey as a basketball player was really special. I have all the love in the world for Kevin Woods and his staff and what they’ve done for me as a player and coach. Nothing but respect and love for them.”
At that point, the competitor in Bradbury came out.
“It burns to lose this game and it’s frustrating, but it’s a learning experience,” he said. “And how we move forward and past this will define our season.”
Portland tied the game at 60 on Cam Latronica’s drive through the lane with 1:34 remaining, but Valley went back ahead nine seconds later when Saagar Patel sped down the floor and finished at the rim.
After Portland’s TJ Reddington was short on a 3-point try, Valley’s James Marsden could have extended the lead but missed the front end of a one-and-one with 30.6 seconds left.
Bradbury called his final timeout to set up what would be Portland’s final possession of the night. The Highlanders worked the ball around the perimeter and into the corner for Reddington, who pump-faked and drove the baseline. But he was called for a travel with 13.3 seconds on the clock.
Marsden was fouled after Valley inbounded the ball and made both free throws to ice the win.
“That’s mental toughness there,” Woods said. “The easy thing to do is get down. Next time James got there, he knocked ‘em both down. He hit some monster shots too to get us going in the right direction (in the second half).”
Simon Partyka had his best shooting night of the season, finishing with a game-high 22 points for Valley and adding five assists and five steals. Patel had 15 points and nine rebounds and Marsden finished with 12 points and seven boards.
“Coach Dave, I’ve learned a lot from him and we love that guy so much, but we’re not ready to give up the baton yet,” said Partyka.
Cody Daggett led Portland with 18 points, with Mason Piersall (15) and Latronica also scoring in double figures.
The Highlanders dominated the first quarter and the first four minutes of the second in building a 29-16 advantage. Valley shaved its deficit to six in the final 20 seconds of the half thanks to a 3-pointer by Partyka and two free throws by Marsden, but Daggett’s runner at the buzzer gave his team a 37-29 lead at the break.
Valley got within four in the early minutes of the third quarter, but the Highlanders scored 10 consecutive points to build their advantage back to 13, at 49-36, with 3:48 left.
Valley began chipping away behind its signature pressure defense and some shot-making, which led to two big offensive runs. The Warriors scored the next eight points, capped by a Marsden 3-pointer, to cut it to five.
After Eli Evison made the second of two free throws with 1:09 left to put Portland up 50-41, Valley put together a 12-1 quarter-ending run. Partyka and Marcus SantaMaria drained consecutive 3-point shots in the final 20 seconds to lift Valley to a 51-50 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
“In the third quarter our lack of experience was starting to show through,” Bradbury said. “We were being loose with the ball and we weren’t hitting the shots with confidence. We put our guards down a little bit and we weren’t matched up on defense several times down the stretch. That’s the mental toughness thing that we are trying to instill in them.”
Valley built its lead to as large as five (58-53) with 5:08 left in the game. Portland overcame it over the course of the next three minutes, but aside from Latronica’s bucket, the Highlanders did not take the next step of getting their long-lost lead back.
“Going into the fourth quarter I told them, ‘You need to toughen up both mentally and physically and act like you have been there in these games,’” Bradbury said. “I guarantee you we’re going to see more of these good teams down the road.
“I thought I could do everything I could to prepare my team for what was coming (tonight). And I think that showed in the first half when we went up 13 points. I thought we dominated early, and I think our lack of experience and what could potentially be a previous culture problem emerged for a school that just hasn’t been there yet. My boys have an exemplary work ethic and they love the game and they love to play together, but none of them have played in these games yet.
“Kevin and I can vouch, we’ve played in those games before.”
Portland (4-2) is shooting for its first winning season in six years and Bradbury expects his team to be more than just competitive this season.
“You look at the culture, he’s going to get there,” said Woods. “There’s no doubt about it.”