Valley Boys’ Hoops Gives Gritty Effort in Shoreline Final Loss
Sophomore Jeremy Arnum and the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team lost a 62-54 contest against top-seeded Morgan in the Shoreline Conference Tournament final. Arnum returned to the lineup just in time for the postseason, and poured in 20 points in the finals loss. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Saagar Patel came up big for the Warriors in their 38-34 win over Cromwell in the Shoreline semis on March 25. Patel hit an important three-pointer in overtime to help Valley secure the victory. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Simon Partyka notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in Valley’s 65-56 quarterfinal victory over Old Lyme on March 23. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Valley Regional boys’ basketball team made a deep run into the Shoreline Conference Tournament last week. The Warriors claimed victories over Old Lyme and Cromwell before facing off with Morgan in the Shoreline Conference Tournament final and losing to the Huskies in a hard fought contest. Valley finished the season with a final overall record of 10-5.
The No. 3 seed Warriors began their tourney journey with a 65-56 home victory over No. 6 seed Old Lyme in the quarterfinal round on March 23. Two days later, Valley played a knock-down, drag-out road contest against No. 2 seed Cromwell and won by a score of 38-34 in overtime. On March 27, the Warriors headed to Clinton to take on the top-seeded Huskies and played well, but ultimately lost 62-54.
Head Coach Kevin Woods felt the Warriors had a fantastic chance to claim the title, and gave their all in the tournament. Anything can happen, especially in an unorthodox season. So for Valley to make it all the way to the final and battle for the lead in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter was impressive, given the challenges the team faced this year.
“I don’t think anybody thought that we were going to be there, and it was a really back-and-forth game. We had the lead after the first. Morgan took the lead after the second. We had a one-point lead after the third, and it was a three-point game with a minute-and-a-half to go in the fourth quarter,” said Woods. “It was a great game to watch. There isn’t a lot of difference in the amount of talent between the teams, but we are young, and they are physically stronger and bigger.”
The teams were locked in a rigorous battle all the way into the final minutes of the fourth quarter, when Morgan got to some loose balls to seal the fate of the game. Valley started with the early 17-14 advantage after the first quarter, but Morgan pulled ahead, 31-30, heading into halftime. The Warriors climbed back on top by the end of the third at 43-42, but fell behind the Huskies after a 20-11 fourth quarter from Morgan, leading to the 62-54 final tally.
One of the contributing factors to Valley’s deep postseason run was the return of sophomore Jeremy Arnum, who scored 20 points in the loss to Morgan. Junior guard Simon Partyka added 11 points, while fellow junior Saager Patel tallied six points. Senior captain Marcus SantaMaria also scored six points, as did junior James Marsden. Sophomore DiAngelo Jean-Pierre provided five points in the defeat. Valley diversified its scoring attack in Arnum’s absence from the team, and Coach Woods believed that helped other players step up. That bodes well for Valley’s future.
“It not a good thing to lose a top player, but it was almost one of the best things that could have happened for the team, even though it wasn’t the best thing for Jeremy. The bottom line was that the team grew and rallied behind Jeremy’s injury. We did all we could to be the best we could,” Woods said. “There’s no shortage of confidence on our team. If this team can stay healthy and together, we’re going to be great. Anything short of a state championship next year will be a disappointment.”
Earlier in the week, Valley picked up a 65-56 win over Old Lyme. Valley jumped out to a 19-6 lead after the first, and added on to make it 37-19 at the half. The Wildcats tried to rally back in the second half, outscoring the Warriors 37-28, but Valley held on for the 65-56 victory.
Arnum provided 21 points, five rebounds, and five steals in his first game back, while Marsden scored 17 points to go with 12 rebounds, five steals, a block, and an assist. Partyka added 10 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and five steals. SantaMaria provided eight points, two rebounds, a steal, and an assist.
Coach Woods was happy to see Old Lyme give his team a challenge, after it looked like the Warriors had the game in hand.
“Down the stretch, one of the key contributors was Kyle Montecalvo. He played great defense and made a huge and-1 layup when we were only up four. Simon Partyka found Kyle, and Kyle finished. After that Jeremy had a huge dunk. The champs are not going to go out without a fight, and that was a big fight,” Woods said. “It’s important for a young team to have to deal with adversity. It’s good to get punched back, and it tests you.”
On March 25, Valley played a brutal defensive battle against Cromwell, and grabbed a 38-34 road win in overtime. Coach Woods thought this game was a great win, but it may have sapped his team’s energy heading into the final.
“We saw the two best defensive teams in the conference playing against each other. It was a dog fight. Some people find beauty in offense, but if you find beauty in defense, this was the game to watch,” Woods said. “Saager hit a huge three-pointer for us in overtime. It won the game for us, besides the defense. Every kid on the team contributed on defense.”
Coach Woods felt proud to see what his coaching staff and his players were able to do against such a formidable opponent in Morgan, especially after going toe-to-toe in overtime with a tough Cromwell squad two nights before.
“The last four minutes of that Cromwell game, probably cost us the last four minutes of that Morgan game. I think it took a toll on us. We got into the right positions. We did everything we could to win, but you could tell we were gassed,” said Coach Woods. “Coaches Lou Rolon, Brad Pittman, Scott Harger, they were all so on-point in the match ups. We were prepared for everything they did. It was a great staff. The kids played their hearts out. Morgan just had a couple of big plays down the stretch.”
Coach Woods was sad to see the season end. Maybe coaches around the state had become exasperated with the experience of competing through the COVID-19 pandemic, but to Coach Woods it was still basketball. Woods felt grateful to have the chance to coach such a special group.
“Between coaching football and basketball, I’ve been a part of two state championships and two shoreline championships, and this is my favorite team of any sport I’ve ever coached. It was because of the adversity. We had to come together. It’s just such a special team” said Woods. “Whether we won or lost, it’s a sad day because it means the season ends. People may be breathing a sigh of relief that this season is over. That’s not us.”
To prove that point, after the team arrived back at the Valley Regional gym, players were getting work in. The Warriors were putting up shots after playing three tough games, against top Shoreline talent in the span of five days. Coach Woods felt inspired to see it.
“We got back from the game, and the guys were shooting basketballs afterward. This game and this team means so much to these guys. It’s amazing. Win or lose wasn’t the issue. We wanted maximum basketball,” Woods said. “With the way the world is right now, this is what we needed to overcome the craziness. People to have a backbone and work together toward a common good. These guys showed that when we’re old and these guys are taking care of us, we’ll be in good hands. I’m so fortunate to coach in this community and coach these kids.”