But in the end through no shortage of hard work, the Raiders scored the first upset of the Calhoun County Tournament, knocking off seventh-seed Alexandria 63-61 Tuesday night.
“It just seemed like it was a grind the whole second half,” Pleasant Valley coach Ronnie Preston said. “Our kids just played hard, probably harder than they’ve ever played in their life.”
Alexandria was plagued early on — causing the need for a comeback — due to the intensity the 10th-seeded Raiders (12-8) were playing with.
“Their kids wanted it more than we did,” Valley Cubs coach Jason Johnson said. “Their kids played with more intensity, and that’s probably the most disappointing thing about it.
“We didn’t shoot well, but that doesn’t matter. They played harder than we did.”
However, shortly after halftime, something sparked for Alexandria and the Valley Cubs (8-5) began making it a game.
“We might have played a little harder, we had a little bit more intensity, but that’s still not acceptable,” Johnson said, “not to take anything away from Pleasant Valley.”
After Alexandria tied the game with 2:12 left in the third, it was unable to take the lead, 46-44, until 6:03 left. From there, it was back and forth until the finish.
Garrett Preston immediately responded with a 3 to regain the lead and scored the next basket, followed by a layup by Austin Tate and two free throws by Eddie Roe.
However, even with a 53-46 lead, Pleasant Valley was unable to put the Valley Cubs away.
With 2:30 remaining and trailing by seven, Alexandria made its move.
Scoring six consecutive points in 34 seconds, the Valley Cubs trailed by only one point as Preston took the free-throw line that fouled out Brian Owens.
“I did have confidence,” Preston said about shooting foul shots. “I watch those guys at practice make free throws. They’ll have 10 in a row or eight out of 10.”
Not only did Preston hit those two foul shots, he hit four more, all but one of the remainder of Pleasant Valley’s points.
“He stepped up,” Ronnie Preston said about the guard. “To begin the game, I didn’t know if he was going to miss a shot. He knew it was a big game and he came through.”
But Alexandria had its chances to steal the win. Answering every Raider score and never trailing by more than three in the last minute, a layup by Alton Davis with 16 seconds left put the Valley Cubs down 62-61.
After Lucas Ford made one of his two free throws to give Pleasant Valley a two-point lead, Tyrelle Gay’s 3-pointer from the right wing hit the back iron moments before the buzzer, solidifying the Pleasant Valley win.
“I think it definitely helps the confidence of the kids,” Ronnie Preston said. “We’ve lost some games this year that I didn’t think we should have lost, and I think a game like this gets their confidence up and makes them realize they can win against great competition.”
The Raiders’ fourth straight win puts them in the second round where they will play second-seeded White Plains, which they have lost to in two meetings this season.
“They are a great team,” Ronnie Preston said about the Wildcats. “Fundamentally they do everything right. They play great defense. If a shot goes up, they’re going to have a body on you. I just can’t say enough about their team.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.