Ryan Kleiman goes up for a shot for Valley Center, which assumed sole possession of first place in the Valley League.
Valley Center High tried a different approach but got the same result.
Instead of having to rally in the final seconds to win the boys basketball game as they had to do in the last three meetings against Del Norte, the Jaguars led from the outset of the Valley League showdown.
Led by Brett Henderson’s 22 points, and aided by 18 missed free throws by host Del Norte, the Jags moved into sole possession of first place with a 63-55 victory Tuesday night.
“That was a lot less stressful on everyone,” Henderson said. “We always say the most important part of a game is the first few minutes of the second half, but that’s because we normally trail at halftime.
“This was for league. We love winning at Del Norte.
“We had to have it, so we came out with much more intensity at the start and it paid off.”
The game was tied twice — at 2-2 and again at 19-19. Each time Valley Center (16-6, 6-1) put together a run to retake control of the tempo.
Despite foul trouble that claimed two starters and had two others finish the game with four fouls, the Jags were able to keep Del Norte (14-11, 5-2) from getting any closer than four points in the final seconds.
Austin Clyde, who led Del Norte with 15 points, ignited a late charge by the Nighthawks to cut the deficit to 56-52 with 1:21 to play.
Valley Center, which also got 11 points and 13 rebounds from Mitchell Rush, put the game away, and maybe the league title, with a 7-3 run the rest of the way.
Mike McInerney tossed in five of those points down the stretch for the Jags.
“We showed signs of really playing well,” Valley Center coach Bob Purdy said. “Now we just have to take care of our own business and we’ll be OK the rest of the way.”
While the Jaguars played well, hitting 20 of 43 shots from the field, the Nighthawks were 20 of 56 from the field and a miserable 9 of 27 from the free-throw line.
“Horrible, horrible night from the line,” Del Norte coach Bob Spahn said. “We’re not the best free throw team around, but we had the clock stopped and couldn’t get them to fall.
“We normally hit 60 percent, which isn’t all that good. But 60 percent in this game would have gotten the job done.”
And it also would have gotten the Nighthawks into first place.