Horns stampede Happy Valley
By Jonathan PleasantThe Longhorns came out to win against Happy Valley last week and that’s just what they did. Beginning with a three-point shot by J.R. Speed after tipoff, Johnson County went on a run that the Warriors simply couldn’t compete with. Joined by Brian Dempsey, Chase Phillips, and Dalton Timbs on the offense, the Longhorns quickly put up an eight point lead midway through the first quarter. Happy Valley finally caught up, thanks entirely to free throws in the last minute, but the two point deficit at the very end of the first was a close as they ever got to taking control of the game.
With Junior Chase Phillips having a particularly strong night, Johnson County had quickly grown the lead to five and then on to 10 with no signs of stopping. However, while the Warrior defense had a hard time slowing the matchup down to their pace, that didn’t mean they didn’t try. “We can’t put anyone away,” said Head Coach Austin Atwood. “We’ve talked about that all year. We would have liked to have won this one by 25 or 30, but I give Chuck’s team credit. They came out and made some big shots late and kept fighting.”
Even though Johnson County couldn’t quite get the huge early lead they would have liked, they still walked into half time dominating at 32-17. The Warriors made every effort to rough the game up in the second half, often ending up on the floor fighting for control of loose balls knocked out of one of the Longhorn’s hands. Yet most of the time Johnson County’s speed allowed them to regain the possession and drive it in for a goal.
Living up to his namesake, point guard J.R. Speed had one of the most difficult jobs in trying to adapt and adjust to Happy Valley’s attempts to roughen up the game. After several big wins over tough regional rivals, Speed was able to make some big advances, especially late in the game. “We’ve been playing a lot of games here lately, got some practice time under us,” Speed confirmed. “I’m back 100% healthy and I’m getting my legs back under me and getting in shape. The team is rolling along really well and playing good ball right now. On the offensive end it’s just about getting our sets right and getting the right people to the right places, and even on the defense just getting everyone where the need to be so that we can be to our best potential.”
With rising players like Brandon Vannoy and Jose Guzman getting into the mix late in the third, there could have been a shift in the Warriors’ favor. However, as if to show just how far the whole team has come, the deficit not only remained steady but actually grew late in the third as Vannoy in particular landed several baskets. That said, Chase Phillips was probably the most successful player overall, nailing steal after steal. “Brian played well and J.R. did a good job but really the most solid guy was Chase in as far as not making turnovers,” said Coach Atwood. “He probably had double digit steals. He stole the ball quite a few times and he is shooting the ball a lot better too.”
By the beginning of the fourth, Johnson County was 25 points out front and Happy Valley had little hope of moving things in their favor. Senior Brian Dempsey landed several buckets through the fourth, along with Speed who had multiple break aways that ended up being easy layups. To their credit, Happy Valley never gave up and actually did make some progress very late, but the game was too far over to make a serious difference.
The biggest advantage of this game for Johnson County is that it added yet another conference win to their record. Having narrowly beaten Sullivan East, the Longhorns proved they are contenders in the league, but their biggest challenges may still be ahead. With Sullivan South as the next opponent in the lineup, players like Speed are gaining confidence from their recent success. “I feel good about the South game,” said Speed. “It’s at home. It’s a big conference game that we need to win. It’s a have to win really, because that could dictate farther on in the season what we will be able to do in region, districts, and hey, even possibly sub-state all right there.”
Johnson County 69,
Happy Valley 51
Brian Dempsey 18
Chase Phillips 18
J.R. Speed 11
Brandon Vannoy 8
Jose Guzman 7
Cody Bailie 3
Austin Houser 2
Patrick South 2