NEW BUFFALO – March Magic began in earnest for the River Valley boys basketball team against New Buffalo on Thursday, March 5.
The Mustangs defeated the Bison 50-29 to win the outright Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph White Division championship. It was River Valley’s first league title since winning the Lakeland Conference crown in 1992-93.
“I was really proud of them,” River Valley coach Jason Heckathorn said. “New Buffalo is a dangerous team and getting off to a good start was key for us.”
River Valley (14-0 BCS White, 17-3 overall) took advantage of New Buffalo (12-2 BCS White, 12-8) miscues early and often. The Mustangs scored the game’s first 12 points and extended the lead to 24-4 midway through the second quarter.
But the Bison refused to back down.
New Buffalo turned up its press defense to trigger a 19-3 run that made it a 27-23 game midway through the third quarter.
“New Buffalo is scrappy,” Heckathorn said. “They battled relentlessly. We made some mental mistakes and weren’t as crisp. Their quickness and tenacity forced us into mistakes and they capitalized on it.”
A Lennon Lange basket stopped the bleeding for the Mustangs and kick-started a 23-6 run to end the game. Foul trouble that plagued the Bison throughout the game put River Valley on the free-throw line, where it made 13 of 18 in the second half.
Kaden Parmley, Mark Shaw, and Sean Gordon fouled out for New Buffalo.
“We fell down huge and then we come back,” New Buffalo coach Nate Tripp Sr. said. “We don’t remain disciplined to our system; we get off track. We’re a team made up primarily of sophomores and we lose our way sometimes. It hurt us, it really did.”
Lennon Lange led River Valley with a game-high 24 points and Wil Korbel added 12.
“We kept our cool, kept our heads up, stayed in it and we got the win.” Lange said.
Heckathorn was proud of his team’s mental toughness and their desire to bring a conference title back to River Valley.
“That was our number one goal this season,” he said. “We had a few ups and downs but for the most part, we worked hard to achieve that goal. The pressure was on us tonight. It feels great; this is a deserving group of kids.
RV player Levi Strauss credited the team’s defense for being “our best offense.”
Shaw scored eight points for the Bison and Anthony Lijewski added seven. Losing a chance to share the conference championship on their home court was tough, but Tripp hopes his Bison use the loss as fuel for a postseason run.
“I like that our guys were hurt tonight,” he said. “It showed that they cared; they were upset. (Today) we’re practicing after school. It’s a new season. We’ll be ready for whoever we face.”
With a conference title in tow, the Mustangs look to carry the momentum into districts next week (New Buffalo is the defending district champion).
- David Johnson contributed to this report