Valley pulls away from Freeport, secures longest win streak in 11 years

Saturday, January 20, 2018 | 12:15 AM

Nyjewel Carter believes Valley saves its best for last — as in the fourth quarter.

That certainly was the case Friday night.

An early fourth-quarter run gave Valley some space, and the Vikings held off a late Freeport run to get a 63-53 victory in a crucial Section 1-4A game at Freeport Area Middle School.

“The fourth quarter is crunch time,” Carter said. “That's our best quarter, I feel, if we play when it's time and it's that time to go. The fourth quarter, we get to rolling, we huddle up (and say), let's go.”

Valley led, 33-31, after three quarters after Dru Stokes hit a jumper in the final seconds of the third.

Then the Vikings (8-2, 5-1) began the fourth on a 12-2 run to build a sizable lead they wouldn't relinquish. They led by as many as 14 points; although Freeport cut it to seven multiple times, the Yellowjackets couldn't get any closer as Valley hit 15 of its 23 free-throw attempts in the quarter.

Carter scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth, Deonte Ross added 10 of his 21 and Stokes had seven of his 13.

“I was very proud of how we stayed together,” Valley coach Mark Faulx said. “We talked about that before the game: We've got a lot of good basketball players, but we've got to be a good team with good basketball players. When the tough things happen in the game or when the other team has runs, we've got to keep the focus, keep together and just finish. Tonight, I think was a good lesson.”

The contest between a pair of teams battling for second place in the section resembled a tight, defensive, grind-it-out battle for the first three quarters before the game opened up late. Just as in their first meeting, another 10-point Valley win, the fourth quarter made the difference.

“It was a hard-fought game,” Freeport coach Mike Beale said. “We executed what we wanted to, it's just that unfortunately we missed a lot of easy shots around the hoop. They're a good, solid athletic team in our conference, for sure.”

Valley won its sixth consecutive game, the first such streak for the Vikings since the end of the 2006-07 season. Freeport (8-5, 4-3) saw its own six-game winning streak end.

The rivalry game became chippy at times: Valley's Roman Flenory and Freeport's Isiah Bauman were whistled for fouls on physical plays in the second half.

“This was a huge win because Freeport beat us twice last year,” Carter said. “We just came to their house and put the work in, worked hard. We worked hard all practice, and we stayed focused and kept control.”

Junior Alex Ward returned for Valley after missing the first nine games with a leg injury, but the trio of Carter, Ross and Stokes led the offense. Carter sank three 3-pointers, and Ross did damage in transition, getting behind the defense to catch baseball passes and convert layups on a few occasions.

Freeport, already without starter Gavin Skradski to a hand injury, was missing another starter in Damon Shiring because of the flu.

That hampered the Freeport offense, though the Yellowjackets did get 18 points from Ben Beale and 12 apiece from Jalen Brown and Bauman. Brodey Cowan, starting for Shiring, scored five points in the fourth quarter, and Aiden Skradski hit a pair of 3-pointers.

“We're going to get up tomorrow and work hard, focus on our skill development and just continue to build on what we've done so far,” Mike Beale said. “It was a loss, and it was a loss to a good team, but we feel we were right there with them. It was just unfortunately, shots didn't fall.”

Faulx said he believed the Vikings' success playing tough defense and getting the ball to good free-throw shooters late could make a difference down the line if the team can keep it up. Valley faces a major test Tuesday against section leader Indiana.

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams in our section, and I think Freeport is a really good team that plays really well,” Faulx said. “We knew we were in for a serious battle tonight, and we got one. We were able tonight to make the plays necessary to get the win.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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