HUNTINGTON BEACH — Ho hum, another night in the Sunset League.
Teams from opposite ends of the league spectrum, Fountain Valley and Marina, went at it Friday and, sticking pretty much to what has been the script to follow so far in the league season, this game went down to the final minutes.
Fountain Valley used a big second half and was able to finish off the host Vikings, 69-59, and in the process, finished off the first half of the Sunset boys' basketball title race undefeated.
"It's a Sunset League road win and it's a beautiful thing, no matter how you slice it," said Fountain Valley Coach Roger Holmes, whose team finished the first half of league play 5-0.
But it wasn't easy. Marina led throughout much of the first half, but the Barons turned the tide with a blitz to start the second half. It paved the way to an eventual, 16-point lead, and it helped fend off a surge by the Vikings late in the fourth quarter.
"Our guys played hard and came out focused and fighting at the start of the game, but we tend to have one quarter in every game where we tend to fall apart," said Marina Coach Nick Racklin, whose team went to 0-5 in league. "That was the third quarter for us tonight."
Fountain Valley trailed by as many as eight points in the opening half, but rallied to within 32-30 at the break. The Barons forced a few turnovers to start the second half and used a 10-0 run out of the gate, to bolt to a 42-32 lead with less than two minutes elapsed.
Josh Armstrong scored eight of the 10 points during the spurt, just part of a superb game by the senior guard. Armstrong was in the zone most of the night, picking up the slack for his team, which was cold from the field in the first half.
He scored 21 of his career-high 38 points in the first half, 17 coming in the second quarter, and was a huge reason why Fountain Valley was able to win for the 17th time in 21 games.
The 17 wins matches last year's win total by the Barons.
"Josh went on a tear there in the second quarter," Holmes said. "He's really good with the ball and played a great game tonight."
A dunk by Armstrong with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter increased Fountain Valley's lead to 55-42. The Barons still maintained a double-digit lead (55-44) with 6:36 left when Marina (6-15) began its comeback. A 7-0 spurt was capped by a shot from inside the lane by senior forward Hayden Winks that pulled the Vikings within 55-51.
The Vikings had a chance to further cut into the deficit but sophomore guard Gabe Copper missed from three-point range. At the other end of the floor, Armstrong turned a three-point play into a seven-point advantage for the Barons at 58-51 with just under five minutes left.
Marina didn't fold. The Vikings drew to within 58-54 on a three-point shot from the corner by Winks, and got to within 58-56 on a driving shot to the basket by junior guard Derek Mallard moments later. A bank shot by senior forward Joey Petersen upped the Fountain Valley lead to 60-56 with 3:23 left and following a Marina turnover, Armstrong scored on a follow shot of a missed shot by Jackson Gatlin to make it 62-56.
Copper hit a big three-pointer with 2:09 remaining to make it 62-59, but Armstrong scored on a driving layup to start a game-closing, 7-0 run by the Barons that culminated on a dunk by Gatlin.
Gatlin had sat out the final 6:40 of the first half due to three personal fouls.
Winks scored 16 points to lead the Vikings.
"We might be 0-5 in league but not much, really, separates us from being 4-1. Well, maybe, 3-2," Racklin said. "We were within eight points of Huntington, four of Edison and played Fountain Valley tough tonight. Our guys really had more confidence in their shooting tonight and we penetrated and kicked the ball out really well."
The second half of the Sunset League boys' basketball race starts Jan. 25. At 7 that night, Fountain Valley travels to face Huntington Beach (3-2) and Marina plays host to Los Alamitos (3-2).
"It's great to lead the league at the halfway point but it's just that — it's halftime," Holmes said. "We had tough ones in the first half of league against Los Alamitos and Edison, and here tonight, and we shot the ball really well against Huntington. The second half of league play figures to be just as tough."