Murrieta Valley's Kevin Padlo, moves the ball around Heritage's Mat Bradshaw, during the division II-AA playoff game Friday night.
MURRIETA The Heritage High boys basketball program made its postseason debut Friday night, and the Patriots didn’t act like a team just happy to be in “The Dance.”
The Patriots put together an inspired effort against Murrieta Valley by executing long-distance shots with their guard tandem of Andrew Oliver and Mat Bradshaw.
However, the Nighthawks avoided the upset scare by capping the game with 10 unanswered points, pulling out a 68-58 victory in the opening round of the Division II-AA playoffs. Murrieta Valley (20-7) has now managed at least a postseason victory in each of the last seven seasons, quite the contrast to Heritage’s fledging program.
Despite the differing resumes, the Patriots (11-14) opened eyes when they tied the game at 58-58 with less than six minutes remaining. The fifth-place Sunbelt League team overcame an early nine-point deficit.
“The guys fought very hard and I could not be more proud of how hard they kept fighting,” Heritage coach Bryan Voshell said.
Oliver scored a game-high 28 points, keeping the Nighthawks off guard with his shooting and his ability to create scoring opportunities with his dribbling. Bradshaw complemented Oliver by sinking five 3-point buckets en route to a 16-point performance.
Turnovers and missed shots kept Heritage off the scoreboard in the last five minutes, but the team with 11 graduating seniors had a positive outlook on its setback afterwards.
“This whole team loves playing with each other,” Oliver said. “We are just a great big family, on and off the court. Although the scoreboard said we lost, as a team, we won today.”
Murrieta Valley put together a balanced, team effort as Kevin Padlo (15 points), Mitchell Lenhart (15), Tyler Bilton (13), Thomas Alexandre (12) and Talon Watkins (10) all scored in double-figures.
Watkins, the team’s only starting senior, had a team-high six points in the fourth quarter when the Nighthawks sealed the win.
It was an encouraging finish for Watkins, who spent most of the season building up his stamina after missing time due to hernia surgery.
Though the Patriots shot well, they never quite figured out how to slow down the Nighthawks’ offense. Down the stretch, Murrieta Valley was able to pass the ball around, drain time off the clock and eventually push the ball into the key for a high-percentage shot.
“In situations like that, we just wait for a nice open shot inside, a layup, and we only accept layups,” Bilton said.
The junior-laden Nighthawks visit San Bernardino Cajon (19-9) in the second round Tuesday.
Although Murrieta Valley has garnered an esteemed reputation over the years, its performance this year has exceeded the expectations of coach Steve Tarabilda.
“If we could get into the teens in Ws and that would be a great year for us,” said Tarabilda of his preseason hopes. “All of a sudden, we hit 20 (wins) tonight. It’s huge. These kids have worked their butts off.”
A then-injured Bilton remembered being worried about his team’s prospects while watching his teammates compete from the bench during summer league.
“There were doubts going through my mind and they were negative and I was concerned,” Bilton said. “I was little apprehensive about how the year was going because we were so young and we could see it was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Because of that, a lot of people underestimated us. We just busted our rear ends in practice and proved them wrong.”