BULLHEAD CITY — It was Senior Night at the Mohave Accelerated Learning Center on Wednesday as the River Valley High varsity boys invaded The Battleground for a rematch between rivals.
But the visiting Dust Devils spoiled MALC’s celebration, atoning for a Jan. 27 home loss to the Patriots with a wild-and-wooly 52-48 victory.
Anybody in attendance who saw their blood pressure increase couldn’t be blamed.
Dust Devils coach Jonathan Clark was appreciative of his team’s effort in raising their overall record to 9-7.
“Super-proud of my boys. They went into a hostile house and fought hard for a big win,” he said.
“Shots weren’t falling early, but I felt like we held our composure well.”
Although the Patriots slipped to 14-4, coach Joey Leslie wasn’t disappointed in his squad or their supporters.
“I am proud of my team and proud of the fans,” he said. “Our seniors deserved a full house and got one.”
That’s an understatement. Both schools’ bleachers were chockablock with boisterous backers, one of whom was heard by the referee’s rabbit ears and dismissed forthwith.
In a back-and-forth showdown with no shortage of controversial calls, the rivals exchanged baskets throughout a feisty first quarter.
The Patriots struggled to surge ahead as they were plagued by double-dribbles and traveling calls.
As the second quarter ticked away, The Battleground earned its nickname: Players went all out, diving for loose balls and crashing the boards.
MALC senior Zach Neal showed brotherly love with a precise pass to sibling Josh, as the Patriots tried pulling away, 20-13.
Senior Devin Homer swished a 3-pointer that sparked a deafening roar from the home crowd.
Before it got out of hand, however, River Valley’s Amaro Contreras and Trevell Walker each connected to stop the Dust Devils’ bleeding.
In the third quarter, Zach Neal responded with a ferocious layup and his teammates cranked up the defense. But the Patriots lost their 29-26 lead as quickly as they’d established it.
Nate Vargas’ electrifying reverse layup, soon complemented by long-range buckets by Walker and Gage Solano, put the Dust Devils up 35-31.
Jacob Leslie briefly carried MALC on his broad shoulders, only for Trevor Walker to answer with a 3-pointer.
Lucas Leslie shot back literally with a 3 of his own, and within minutes Homer drilled another 3 that raised the roof.
Nevertheless, River Valley kept its composure. The Dust Devils calmly converted layups and free throws amid the cacophony to earn a split in the rivals’ season series.
Clark gave the Patriots ample credit.
“I have lots of respect for the MALC program,” he said. “They play sound basketball, and I wish them well at state (playoffs).”
River Valley hits the road again today, taking an excursion to Wickenburg. Meantime, MALC makes its way to North Valley Christian Academy for the 1A West tourney, where the Patriots will face Anthem Prep.