SPOKANE — Walk onto West Valley High School’s campus, and it’s apparent the Eagles love their basketball.
For starters, the public high school boasts not one, but three, full-sized basketball courts. The athletic complex alone could comfortably hold most smaller North Idaho schools. And, predictably, their varsity boys basketball team runs the show at their own West Valley Summer League. The Eagles were a league-best 9-1 in pool play and the top seed in the tournament bracket.
Sandpoint, meanwhile, got to witness the Eagles’ dominance firsthand with a 58-37 loss against arguably the toughest team the Bulldogs faced all summer. Given the Bulldogs’ now-six person roster, the loss wasn’t anything to lament. West Valley is, to make the understatement of the summer, quite good.
“Sometimes you have to take your hat off to your opponent,” Sandpoint head coach Wade Engelson said. “[West Valley] shot the ball really well under pressure, they moved the ball on offense and they played an excellent game. I suppose there is a reason they’ve only lost one game during summer league.”
For a quarter, the Bulldogs put a scare into the hosting Eagles, especially with their full-court press and their faced-paced offense. Senior point guard Kobe Banks was aggressive early, scoring on heavily contested layups en route to finishing with a team-high 14 points. Neither team shot it particularly well in the first quarter — both teams had more fouls (six) than made field goals (three) — but after a quarter of free-wheeling (albeit mistake-laden) basketball, West Valley made it clear why they were the favorites.
The Eagles’ veteran guards made smart passes, quick reversals and — most importantly after all that work — hit their threes against Sandpoint’s defense. All told, the host team hit eight threes; most of them were off of second opportunities. To add insult to injury, freshman Randy Lane took a hard fall in transition and was down for a few teeth-clenching moments before getting up under his own power. After that brief respite, West Valley threw its offense into overdrive by closing the second quarter on a 10-0 run in 90 seconds.
But despite the deficit, the Bulldogs fought back to start the second half. Ever the spark-plug on offense, Arie VanDenBerg kicked off the second half scoring, then Ethan Butler drew contact underneath for an and-one opportunity. On the next possession, Darren Bailey notched his first of two steals of the game, kicked it ahead to Kobe Banks for a transition three that went in-and-out before bouncing towards Bailey. The junior immediately kicked it back to a trailing VanDenBerg, who hit a dead-on three to pull Sandpoint within single-digits.
Sandpoint wouldn’t get closer. West Valley went on another quarter-ending 11-0 run that put the game out of reach, yet the Sandpoint underclassmen didn’t get the memo.
“They went out there and were not intimidated,” Engelson said. “They were heavy favorites in this game, and the only difference in the first half was that our guys missed shots they normally make.”
Sophomore Jacob Eldridge, who led the Bulldogs with nine rebounds, finished through contact twice in the fourth quarter, showing the same level of intensity in the paint as he has done all summer. Freshman Parker Pettit found his teammates during his reps at point guard with a team-leading two assists. While Bailey and Banks finally found their rhythm with some threes, the team ran out of time.
The Bulldogs finished their first year of summer league play with a 6-6 record.
“Even in this loss, we grew,” Engelson said, encapsulating not only the team’s attitude towards the game, but also towards the summer. “You see exactly where you area when you play against really good teams, what exactly the things you need to work on as a team and exactly what I need to do as a coach. The guys we had out there today can play varsity basketball.”
Sandpoint 3 11 9 14 — 37
West Valley 5 19 15 19 — 58
SANDPOINT — Banks 14, Pettit 4, Bailey 5, Eldridge 7, Butler 2, VanDenBerg 5, Lane 0
WEST VALLEY — Roster unavailable.