TEMECULA — The first phase of the Southwestern League boys basketball league season, which most coaches affectionately call a "war," played out as expected Tuesday night.
As usual, Murrieta Valley High and Temecula Valley engaged in the key battle.
Senior forwards Darius Butler and Jackson Helms each posted double-doubles as the visiting Nighthawks outlasted the Brandon Rosser-less Golden Bears for a scrappy, 59-51 victory in both teams' league opener.
"Every time we play them, it's like a bloodbath out there," said Butler, who shot 4-for-6 from both the field and the free-throw line in the second half. "But I like playing those types of games. It's fun."
Butler scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Helms had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Temecula Valley senior guard Danny Thompson tallied a team-high 14 points, as the Bears moved forward without Rosser, the junior forward who is their leading scorer and rebounder, who cut a tendon in his right (shooting) wrist in the finals of the Don Bambauer Holiday Classic in Marin just prior to New Year's. Rosser, a junior, is out for the season.
Still, the Golden Bears fought hard. Murrieta Valley (15-1, 1-0), ranked No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division II-A coaches poll, struggled to put away Temecula Valley (12-5, 0-1), ranked sixth in Division II-AA, until late in the fourth quarter, when the Bears came up empty on five consecutive possessions after closing the deficit to 53-48 on Garrison Holmes' drive underneath the hoop.
The Nighthawks took over from there, leaning on Butler, who drove and banked a basket in with 1:06 left before converting 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch to salt away the game. Murrieta Valley scored six consecutive points to open up an 11-point lead in the final seconds.
"In the Southwestern League, it's like every night is a championship game," Nighthawks coach Steve Tarabilda said. "I mean, I'll get calls from other coaches telling me, 'how can you survive 10 games in that league.'
"But that's just the way it is."
Danny Thompson did his best Rosser impression to go along with usual staunch defense. Junior guard Michael Price and Holmes each added 12 points.
"I was pleased with our effort," Bears coach Andy Thompson said. "Our mistakes defensively were minor and I don't think they were game-changers."
"Without Rosser, offensively, I told the guys that this is (like) a new season, and we're going to be a developing team," he added.