Basketball players’ roles on the 2012-13 edition of the West Valley Rams are pretty well defined.
Austin Strock, a 6-foot-4 forward with the body of an NFL linebacker and the springs of a pogo stick, is going to rip down rebounds, score in transition and throw down the occasional dunk. Jalen Peake is going to be in scoring range about the time he steps off the bus. James Swanson is going to get his rebounds and points in the paint and play defense that extends far beyond it.
And Tyler Cluff and Jace VanDeBrake are going to run the show, make sure the ball gets in the right hands and know just the right thing to say when those hands aren’t producing.
Which is just what Cluff did at halftime of West Valley’s 48-38 victory over Wapato in the season’s first showdown of would-be conference kingpins since the Rams came down from the 3A ranks to the 2A CWAC.
The explosive Peake had missed his first four shots and been held to just two first-half points in the first half, that coming on a six-footer at the halftime buzzer.
“He struggled in the first half, and I told him he was going to be knocking down shots in the second half, that he was going to be open and we were going to find him,” Cluff said. “I told him ‘You’re a great shooter, we all know you can shoot.’ It’s not that he was down on himself, it wasn’t like that. It was just basically to give him that little boost of confidence.”
And, of course, give him the ball when he was open — which Peake was time and again over the first 10 minutes of the second half. The 6-foot-3 senior wing hit five of six shots over that span, including three 3-pointers, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half as the Rams (3-0 CWAC, 4-1 overall) broke open what had been a close game.
“We got the ball into Jalen’s hands at the critical point of the game,” West Valley coach Jon Kinloch said.
Peake’s biggest barrage, in fact, came right after the Wolves (2-1, 3-1) had run off nine unanswered points — sparked by a Gibby Patterson 3-pointer and a Sean Craig turnaround jumper from the top of the key — to take a 30-26 lead.
Peake responded by banking in a 10-footer, hitting a 3-pointer on an assist from Cluff and then driving the baseline for a basket. Seven points in 70 seconds, and the Rams never trailed again.
The difference between the two teams, not surprisingly, came in the paint, where the taller Rams had a dominating 54-34 rebounding advantage. Strock ripped down a career-high 18 boards to go with his 10 points, and Cluff and VanDeBrake kept their cool against the ball-hawking Wapato defenders.
“They’re really scrappy. They’re really good on defense, and they get hands on balls a lot for turnovers,” Cluff said. “And they did that tonight. We had some turnovers.”
But not enough to change the flow of the game. And the taller Rams turned out to be just as athletic as their cat-quick visitors.
“James Swanson played wide receiver in football, so he’s an athlete,” Rams coach Jon Kinloch said. “He’s a 6-3 guy who can move. It really gives you an extra dimension when you’ve got guys like James and Austin and Jalen as your bigs, because they can guard anybody out there.”
WAPATO — Gibby Patterson 13, Strom 7, A. Vela 3, Craig 6, Guevara 3, C. Vela 3, Shavehead 3, Valdez 0, Hernandez 0, Payer 0. Totals 13-45 11-19 38.
WEST VALLEY — VanDeBrake 2, Jalen Peake 17, Cluff 9, Austin Strock 10, Swanson 4, Peters 0, Landis 2, Thurlby 0, Juarez 4. Totals 18-58 8-21 48.
Wapato 7 14 13 4 — 38
West Valley 12 11 15 10 — 48
3-point goals: Wapato 3-16 (Patterson 1-1, Shavehead 1-4, A. Vela 1-5, C. Vela 0-3, Guevara 0-2, Strom 0-1), West Valley 4-18 (Peake 3-8, Cluff 1-3, Vandebrake 0-3, Peters 0-2, Strock 0-1, Juarez 0-1). Rebounds: Wapato 34 (Guevara 6, A. Vela 5, Strom 5, Craig 4), West Valley 54 (Strock 18, Swanson 7, Peake 7, Juarez 7, Cluff 5). Fouls: Wapato 18, West Valley 14. Fouled out: Craig (W). Turnovers: Wapato 15, West Valley 16. Steals: Wapato 6 (Guevara 3), West Valley 4 (Cluff 2). Assists: Wapato 2, West Valley 7 (Cluff 4).