THREE OAKS — The River Valley High School boys basketball team finished a 13-7 regular season campaign by defeating Countryside Academy 56-36 on the same night (Friday, Feb. 22) when the 40th anniversary of the Mustangs’ 1979 state championship was celebrated.
The Feb. 22 ceremony (for more see page A1 of this issue) brought back fond memories for current River Valley varsity coach Jason Heckathorn.
“I was a fifth-grader, so it was really important in my history and the excitement surrounding River Valley basketball,” Heckathorn said. “It was a nice ceremony, great to recognize those guys.
“I was also pleased that the delay between (JV and varsity) games did not seem to have an adverse effect on our preparation. I was pleased that we came out focused and played with the determination and effort we thought it was going to take to have a chance to win the game.”
The Cougars held an early 10-9 lead thanks to scores by Charles Booker, Travariae Favorite and Jamere Matlock (a three-point basket), but the Mustangs (second place in the BCS White division at 11-3) went ahead for good at 12-10 on a 3-pointer by Matthew Schmidt at the first-quarter buzzer.
River Valley was 6-for-12 on 3s in the first half, building a 25-16 half-time lead as Lennon Lange hit a pair of trey in the second stanza and Tylar Montgomery added an exclamation point “3.”
WIll Korbel led the way as the Mustangs scored the first eight points of the third quarter while holding Countryside (5-7, 6-9) scoreless for nearly four minutes to put the game away.
Heckathorn was pleased his team had just nine turnovers.
“That certainly helped to control the tempo,” he said. “That’s been kind of our Achilles’ heel all year, we’ve been prone to turning the ball over. It was good tonight that we did a good job keeping our composure.”
River Valley had four double-digit scorers, led by Lennon Lange with 16 points. Schmidt finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Wil Korbel scored 13 points and Tylar Montgomery added 10.
Rae’Shawn Walters led Countryside with 12 points.
“(River Valley) had a good night,” Countryside coach Grant Gondrezick said. “They had the state championship thing, they had a bigger crowd than normal. They played well, I give it to them.”
River Valley opened Division 4 district play at home on Monday, Feb. 25, with a 65-19 victory over winless Covert.
Jacob Barbour and Josh Clark led a balanced RV attack with 14 points apiece. Kenny Gibson scored 13 while freshman Jagger Wolnik added 8.
The Mustangs were scheduled to face Countryside again in a Wednesday, Feb. 27, district semifinal game in New Buffalo slated to begin at 5 p.m. The winner will face the host Bison or Lake Michigan Catholic in a district final scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, March 1.
— David Johnson contributed to this report