The sound was deafening as the student sections of both schools competed as hard as the players on the floor. It was the epitome of a playoff game with three ties and five lead changes.
The Murrieta Valley Nighthawks were eliminated 64-54 in the quarterfinals round of CIF playoffs by the Foothill Knights. Junior post player Eric Patton scored half of the Knights’ points. This was Murrieta Valley’s third trip to CIF quarterfinals in the last three years.
The Nighthawks came out hot hitting their first three baskets from beyond the arc by Mitchell Lenhart, Jacob Forte and Tyler Bilton. Murrieta Valley had a 16-14 lead at the end of the first period.
The Knights made some defensive adjustments and held Murrieta Valley to one field goal in the second quarter, outscoring the Nighthawks 17-6 to go into the halftime break ahead 31-22. “Once we started to play defense the way we’re taught to play – see man and ball, help and recover – we’re awesome,” said Foothill Coach Rusty Van Cleave.
Seven first-half Nighthawk turnovers resulted in five Knight scores. The Nighthawks enjoyed a three to ten foul advantage, but only converted on 5-of-11; the Knights had no free throw attempts. Patton scored twelve points in the second quarter run and 16 total in the half.
The Nighthawks came roaring back with a 21-9 third quarter led by Tyler Bilton’s ten points. “We talked about shot selection and not turning the ball over,” said Coach Steve Tarabilda, “and that made a difference in the third quarter, but we were unable to sustain it.” The Nighthawks led 43-40 at the end of the third. Patton scored six of the Knights’ nine points.
The outcome was still up for grabs with the score tied 50-50 with 2:45 left in the game. Jacob Dean’s fastbreak lay-up and a steal coast-to-coast dunk by Patton forced a Nighthawk timeout as the Knights went up 54-50.
The Nighthawks were outscored 24-11 in the final period with Patton accounting for ten of those points. “We’ve been begging for him to shoot since his sophomore year,” said Van Cleave, “Our coaching staff and players were encouraging him to just keep going and he played a great game.”
Patton shot 76% from the floor, ending the night with 32 points on 16 of 21 shooting. “This was by far my career high,” said Patton, ” I usually take just seven shots per game.” His previous high this season was 17 points; he averaged 12.6 points per game.
“He is the best post player we’ve seen all season,” said Tarabilda, “as hard as we played, it was tough to stop that guy.”
Dean added 12 points and Riley O’Hern contributed 11 to the Knights’ total. The Knights shot 10-of-14 from the free throw line, nine in the final period.
“That’s a great win for our program,” said Van Cleave. “We’ve got all kinds of respect for this team. Coach [Tarabilda] is one of the best coaches in Southern California.”
Tyler Bilton led the Nighthawk scoring with 16; Kevin Padlo had 12; Jordan Williams added ten. The Nighthawks were 12-of-20 from the charity stripe. The team ended the season 19-11.
“It was a good season for our program,” said Tarabilda, “and created a lot of great memories for our seniors.” Murrieta Valley graduates six seniors from this year’s team: Padlo, Lenhart, Thomas Alexandre, Bilton, Jordan Williams, and Reid Bohanan.