FOUNTAIN VALLEY — When glancing at the opening day schedule of the 2013 Sunset League boys' basketball race, Friday's game between Huntington Beach High and Fountain Valley looked to be the marquee matchup of the three.
The meeting had all the makings of a big game, as both teams had success during nonleague and tournament play. But at opening tip, one key ingredient was missing.
Fountain Valley got the win, comfortably, 72-60, over visiting Huntington. The Barons took the lead for good near the midway point of the first quarter, and steadily pulled away from there. They did so against an Oilers squad that was playing without key starter Harley Ruder.
The senior forward, the team's leading scorer, took an elbow to the head during tournament play earlier this week at the KSA Holiday Classic in Orlando, Fla. Huntington Coach Fabian Luna held Ruder out for "precautionary reasons," and said Ruder will be held out until he is cleared to play by doctors.
"He saw a doctor [Thursday] and will go back again next week," Luna said. "He'll stay out until he gets the OK."
Not only were the Oilers (10-6) without Ruder, they also had returned from Florida only two days before the league opener and have been hit hard by the flu bug. They were able to get in just one practice session before taking on the Barons.
"It's been a tough few days," Luna said. "One of our coaches is sick in bed, I'm sick and we're just in bad shape right now. Our game plan got twisted from the very start."
The Oilers' situation can hardly diminish the performance of the Barons (13-4) They hustled up and down the court from opening tip to final buzzer, created turnovers and hit easy layups. They had four players score in double figures, and led by as many as 23 points.
"We attacked and moved the ball really well," Fountain Valley Coach Roger Holmes said. "We rebounded really well and that was a big concern coming into the game, having to go up against their height and athleticism. Our guys, though, were very active tonight."
Fountain Valley never relinquished the lead after senior forward Joey Petersen hit the Barons' first three-pointer of the game. It came with 4:28 left in the first quarter, a quarter which ended with the Barons on top, 15-11.
Huntington was within 19-16 after hot-handed Ryan Morrissey scored from three-point range early in the second quarter, and when freshman guard Steven Stafford hit a three-pointer a minute later, the Oilers drew to within 23-19. But then the game got them. Fountain Valley closed out the half with a 17-7 run to open up a 40-26 advantage at the break.
During the Barons' run, senior center Jackson Gatlin hit a baseline jumper off an inbounds pass, senior forward Tanner Trounce hit a three-point shot from the corner, and Armstrong made a nice save before going out of bounds under the Huntington basket, a play which ended when a long outlet pass downcourt led to a slam dunk by Gatlin. With 2:22 left, Gatlin, who had 15 of his game-high 25 points by the half, scored on a follow shot to push the lead to 40-24.
"When we get in the open court and share the ball like we did tonight, we're hard to guard," Holmes said. "We were pretty balanced tonight and we hit the open passes which led to some easy baskets."
Fountain Valley took a 59-41 lead into the fourth quarter and reached its largest lead of the game, 71-48, on a shot by Armstrong with 2:54 to play.
Armstrong, a senior guard, finished with 23 points. Petersen scored 14 points and Trounce had 10 points.
Morrissey, a junior guard, was on target from three-point range, hitting six of eight attempts and led the Oilers in scoring with 18 points. Sophomore forward Grant Vis added 10 points.
"It's a good win for us," said Holmes, whose Barons travel to face Newport Harbor at 7 p.m. Wednesday. "It's got to be hard for [the Oilers]. They are coming off that Florida trip, have the flu bug, and cut off a huge piece of their pie without him [Ruder] in the game. He's a load. Still, you can't take anything away from our guys and how they played tonight."
Huntington plays host to Marina at 7 p.m. next Wednesday in another Sunset League game. In another Sunset game Wednesday, Edison, which edged Newport Harbor, 67-65, Friday, plays host to Los Alamitos at 7 p.m.