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By Isaac Trotter|For the Press
DOWNS - The Tri-Valley Vikings started fast and held off a late Blue Ridge run as they picked up their 11th win of the season 76-52 last Friday night.
The Vikings used an early 17-2 spurt to build a 29-9 lead. Tri-Valley leaned on their full-court pressure defense and the offense of senior Hunter Merritt.
Merritt scored 18 points in the first half alone as the 6-foot-4 forward used his size and strength to dominate the much smaller Knights.
“Hunter has come along way from a year ago where he was a role player to now being our go-to guy this year,” Vikings head coach Jon Nelson said. “It’s good to see his hard work show for us.”
Both Clayton Leipold and Brock Ward knocked down two first half threes which complemented the inside game of Merritt and led the Vikings into the break with a commanding 45-22 lead.
Two more three-pointers from Ward gave Tri-Valley their biggest lead at 57-29 early in the third quarter, but the Knights refused to go quietly.
Sam Duggins and Tim Crook combined to drill four three-pointers in the third quarter and a jumper from Nick Homann capped off a 13-0 Blue Ridge run which brought the visitors to within 57-42.
“Our fight in that third quarter was great,” Blue Ridge coach Joe Sawyer said. “We need that energy where we’re fighting for every possession.”
But the Knights had trouble defending the three-point line yet again, and Ward’s fifth three-pointer not only ended the run but proved to be the knock-out punch.
Tri-Valley would hit 10 three-pointers in total on the evening.
“We just have to get to shooters. I thought that half of them we got to and they just made good shots and the other half we didn’t contest at all,” Sawyer said. “There’s no excuses for that. They have to get a hand up no matter what.”
Tri-Valley had a whopping 12 players crack the scoring column as Nelson was able to go deep into his bench.
Merritt led the way with 20 points while Ward came off the bench to add 15 and Kolton Weichmann nailed two three-pointers and finished with 12 points.
“It was good to get a lot of guys some time,” Nelson said. “They work hard every single day and it was also good because we’ve had some guys struggling with confidence recently and it was nice to see them start to click.”
Blue Ridge was once-again led by junior Dane Houser and senior Nick Homann. Houser scored eight of his 14 points and just missed a double-double as he compiled eight rebounds. Homann also scored 14 points and Tim Crook hit three three-pointers and ended with 11.
The Knights fell to 1-22 and 0-11 in conference play while Tri-Valley improved to 11-10 and evened up their conference record to 5-5.
“We have to cut down on the little mistakes,” Nelson said. “We have big games coming up against Tremont, Dee-Mack and El Paso. So we’re ending with a tough schedule and those should help us as we head towards the postseason.”