ALBANY — Crescent Valley High is closing in on the Mid-Willamette Conference title.
Sparked by the return of Talanoa Hufanga, the Raiders routed host South Albany 66-53 Friday night for their fifth straight boys basketball win.
CV (15-6, 10-2), which is one game up on Corvallis (14-7, 9-3) in the MWC standings, hosts Silverton on Tuesday and Lebanon on Friday. Two victories would clinch the program’s first league title since 2014.
“First off, one game at a time,” said Hufanga, a junior who missed the last two games with an ankle injury. “We have to go get that first one taken care of and we are playing a great team in Silverton. They had us in that first half when we were up there, so I think they will bring a good intensity to that game. But I know we will just come out and play our game.”
Just like Hufanga, CV coach Mike Stair isn’t clearing space in the school’s trophy case just yet.
Five of the Raiders’ 10 league wins have been by seven or fewer points. The team also has two losses against Corvallis by eight combined points.
“We’ve been in so many tight games this year, we’ve been in so many games where we’ve been down double-digits in the second half,” the coach said. “I think they understand that we need to worry about what we’re doing one day at a time and that’s how you’re going to get to that opportunity. So yeah, they’re aware (of the title). We’re aware. But we just need to focus on Silverton on Tuesday.”
Junior wing Tariq Harris led the Raiders with 24 points while Hufanga added 14. Kyle Killen and AJ Sandvig chipped in with eight apiece.
Jake Costello paced the Rebels (15-5, 7-5), who have now dropped three in a row, with 26 points. Tanner Hemzacek (15 points), Jaden Guilford (nine) and Carson Mlsna (3) were the only other Rebels to score.
“I think that our kids did a really nice job of defending,” Stair said. “You look at the first half in particular, I thought we did a very good job of rebounding the basketball with the exception of a couple possessions. When we rebound the basketball well, that enhances our defense and I think that gives our defense more confidence, and obviously that leads to easy opportunities at well.”
CV also hounded South in the first meeting, a 65-52 victory in Corvallis.
Costello praised the Raiders’ swarming defense.
“Crescent Valley has a great athlete in Talanoa,” he said. “A four- or- five-star football recruit being recruited by everyone in the nation, and they just do a good job of helping. Sean Little did a pretty good job, they had a couple kids step up and play really good defense tonight, and they probably do that every night. They are athletic and that’s what they do.”
The Raiders opened the second half on a 7-1 run, going up 41-24 on a Hufanga jumper. A Harris drive and finish through contact made it 47-30 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The visitors look a 53-37 lead into the final period.
A Hemzacek layin pulled South within 14 to start the fourth, but eight straight from Harris — including a corner 3-pointer — put it away at 61-39.
“I think we were just confident in our shots,” Hufanga said. “I had comfort and trust in my guys, knowing they were going to knock down some shots and I tried to get the ball out there to them. They were just knock-down shooters tonight, and I think it played a big role in this victory.”
A Hufanga straight-away 3 was the beginning of a 10-2 run that put the Raiders in front 15-7 midway through the opening period. Little hit Niko Hansen for an easy transition layin to make it 12-5 before Harris buried a 3 to end the run.
Costello scored all 11 of South's first-quarter points as the Rebels trailed 20-11 heading to the second.
Four straight from Hemzacek trimmed it to 20-15 before the Raiders regained control. The lead swelled to 28-18 on a Hufanga steal and conventional 3-point play, and a corner triple from AJ Sandvig put CV up 31-20.
Non-starters Hansen, Sandvig, Preston Heede and Trey Adams all gave solid contributions.
“We have guys coming off the bench that are either maintaining what we’re doing or even giving us a lift,” Stair said. “I think when you can go eight or nine deep and be pretty solid like that, that’s pretty tough to do at the 5A level.”
The Raiders led 34-23 at halftime.