Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 | 11:35 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer fill out their brackets for the Sunset and Sunrise regional tournaments.
Ryan Johnson couldn’t make a shot.
When Johnson, Valley High School’s senior point guard, was warming up Thursday at halftime during the Vikings’ Sunrise Regional semifinal game against Foothill, he would frequently shake his head in disgust because everything he attempted badly missed.
That all changed on Valley’s first possession of the second half, helping Valley prevail 62-55 to advance to Friday’s championship game against Canyon Springs.
Johnson came off a screen and without hesitation buried a 3-pointer to give Valley a lead in what turned out being a back-and-forth second half. Some players would have lacked confidence to attempt the shot — not Johnson.
“It was just my teammates motivating me,” he said. “They said, ‘Keep shooting, Ryan. Keep shooting. You got this in the second half.’ I got all of my confidence from my team. They put the pressure on me not to let them down.”
The feeling was contagious with teammates, who also didn’t flinch when trailing by three points with 2:30 remaining. Spencer Mathis, who led Valley with 21 points, scored four straight points to quickly erase the deficit and the Vikings closed the game on a 12-2 scoring run.
Mathis’ 3-pointer with 2:15 left gave Valley the lead for good, helping them eliminate a Foothill team that had knocked them out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.
“Our kids have a strong will,” Valley coach Brian Farnsworth said. “They came focused and ready to play. It has nothing to do with coaching. It was all guts and determination from the kids.”
Johnson, who scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half, also buried a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to give Valley a 39-38 lead heading into the final eight minutes. But Daniel Young, Valley’s shot-blocking center who will play next year at Cal-State Fullerton, fouled out with about seven minutes to play to put Valley at an immediate disadvantage.
Foothill, which was led by Elijah Smith’s game-high 25 points, seemed like it would eventually pull away.
However, they couldn’t overcome the aggressive play of Valley, especially on the defensive end. It was a physical game with several fouls called on both teams, making offensive opportunities at a premium.
Foothill is typically a strong outside-shooting team, but didn’t receive many open looks at the basket. And when they did, their shots weren’t failing.
“We switched every screen and guarded the perimeter,” Farnsworth said of defending Foothill’s outside shooting. “When you have a guy like (Young) in the paint to clean up things on the inside, it frees up your guards to make plays.”
The Sunrise champion advances to next week’s state tournament at the Orleans Arena. Valley is looking to crash the party. They aren’t typically mentioned alongside some of the area’s top programs, which has clearly motivated the team.
“People think Valley isn’t nothing. We know that we are the underdogs coming in,” Johnson said.