Murrieta Mesa's Shane Stanton, left, races Murrieta Valley's Kevin Padlo to the ball Wednesday.
MURRIETA Steve Tarabilda has been around long enough. There isn’t much he hasn’t seen.
It’s notable, then, when someone turns the Murrieta Valley boys basketball coach’s head.
“We’re just going to start calling him, ‘Machine,’” Tarabilda said of junior guard Kevin Padlo. “He just keeps on making it and producing, and making it and producing.
“Sometimes, I just look out there and shake my head and go, ‘Oh my God, how did he make that play?’”
Padlo made a gym full of believers Wednesday night, as he posted a career-high 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead Murrieta Valley to a spirited 58-53 victory over Murrieta Mesa in a Southwestern League game.
In front of a packed and boisterous crowd at Murrieta Mesa, the Rams led much of the game before falling behind in the fourth quarter and then rallying to get within a possession at 55-53 inside of the final minute.
But there was Padlo, taking a pass underneath from Thomas Alexandre to score with 30 seconds left and extend the Nighthawks’ lead to a safe four points.
That culminated a comeback that saw the Nighthawks erase deficits of 33-25 at halftime and 47-41 late in the third quarter.
The Nighthawks scored 12 consecutive points to end the third quarter and begin the fourth, putting pressure on a hot Mesa team that shot more than 50 percent from the field in the first three frames.
“Our defensive intensity picked up,” Padlo said. “We were getting into lanes, getting some fast break points, which is huge, and that was how we got back in the game. It was a great victory.”
And it was a victory that further muddied the Southwestern League race, which now features Mesa (14-10, 4-3 league), Murrieta Valley (15-7, 4-3) and Temecula Valley (4-3 league) all within one game of first-place Great Oak (5-2 league).
Tarabilda likes the way his young team, a two-time defending league champion, is coming together.
“There was more heart expressed (tonight) than we’ve had in a while,” he said. “... This team is starting to blossom and mature to that point. And we couldn’t ask for it better to happen at a better time.”
Padlo shot 12-of-22 from the field, many of his baskets coming on determined drives inside against a quick Murrieta Mesa defense.
He got some help, too, at critical moments from two key individuals.
Fellow junior guard Mitchell Lenhart scored eight of his 15 points in the second half. He also had seven assists and four steals while setting up Padlo on two of the Nighthawks’ final three buckets.
Alexandre, a junior guard, hit two big 3-pointers in the second half and had the assist on the final bucket after a quiet start.
“I chewed his ear a little bit because some of his shot selection in the first half wasn’t Thomas’ shots,” Tarabilda said. “So we chewed his ear and said, ‘Look, you’re going to hit shots and you’ve got to recognize the ones you’ve got to take.”
For a while, Mesa guard Trevon Session matched Padlo, as he scored a team-high 23 points, all in the first three quarters.
But the Nighthawks’ man defense clamped down on Session in the final eight minutes, holding him to without a field-goal attempt.
Mesa, in fact, shot just 3- for-8 in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Shane Staton was the other double-figure scorer with 11 points.
“I knew they were going to make a run,” Rams coach Russell Ham said. “I thought we sustained it, but we took some bad shots in the fourth quarter. But we still battled back.”