Tough calls are part of the game of basketball but sometimes they really sting.
That was what the Cedar Valley boys basketball team experience in Wednesday night’s Region 10 opener against Juan Diego, getting tagged with a rebounding foul with 0.1 seconds left in a game the Aviators led by one.
Eagle freshman center Malick Diallo made the most of the opportunity, hitting both free throws to give Juan Diego the dramatic 54-53 win, despite a heroic effort by Cedar Valley.
“We got the lead and were trying to keep them in front of us on the final play, not let them get it in to their big guy,” Aviator head coach Blake Pugmire said. “We told them to box out and they did what we told them to do. It was a tough pill to swallow.”
There was some irony to the ending, since Cedar Valley had trailed by one with under 20 seconds left but junior Dalan Larson was fouled when he was going after an Eagle free-throw miss.
Larson calmly stepped up and made both shots, giving the Aviators the lead.
“Dalan came in and knocked those shots under pressure,” Pugmire said. “That was big for us.”
It was almost unbelievable that the final seconds were that close, considering how the game started.
Juan Diego’s pressure defense, length and athleticism dominated the early going as the Eagles had a 14-0 run in the first quarter and led 32-12 midway through the second quarter.
“We came out at the start and struggled in the first quarter,” Pugmire said. “We told them that we could continue to put our heads down or we could rise up, come together as a team and battle. To their credit, that’s what they did. They could’ve gotten down on themselves but they continued to fight.”
Cedar Valley made a big move to start the second half, scoring 12 straight points to cut what had been a 17-point deficit at the break (33-16) to just five.
“To come out and knock down three 3-pointers and get an and-1 like that was all you could ask for,” Pugmire said. “It fueled our kids and showed them they could play. We had some shots in the first half but we just needed to make them. We made some defensive adjustments and they had some trouble with our zone.”
Juan Diego maintained the lead and were up 44-34 going into the fourth quarter. The home team answered with a 14-2 run to give the Aviators their first lead since the opening moments of the game.
That set up the dramatic finish as both teams made some key plays down the stretch.
Cedar Valley was led by 14 points (including four 3-pointers) from junior Dallin Rupper, while junior Lincoln Roberts added 11 points.
Juan Diego was paced by 18 points from senior Talon Valdez.
Pugmire hopes his team, which has a lot of underclassmen, will take from this game that they can compete with anyone.
“Juan Diego lost by two points in the 4A semifinals last year and we beat them once,” Pugmire said. “Even though we are young, we can play with teams. We can compete for a region title.”
Cedar Valley (4-3, 0-1) will try to get back on the winning track when it hosts Uintah in Eagle Mountain on Friday. That game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.