Sports

James Burns: Golden Valley gets passing grade on the road

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

TURLOCK -- Keith Hunter didn't bat an eye when the first Sac-Joaquin Section power ratings were released earlier this week, which...

Seems sort of odd, because his basketball team has virtually powered its way through the first two months of the season.

Golden Valley debuted at No. 4 in the Division I release -- two-hundreths of a point behind rival Merced.

So what's that mean?

Without going into great detail, it means that from this point forward GV is a team of interest around the section.

Serious interest.

Coaches from Sacramento to Stockton will be following Hunter's boys in the papers, on the Web and in person.

Exciting stuff.

Right?

For us, maybe.

But when you broach the subject with Hunter, you discover that his team operates in a vacuum.

That the excitement and buzz of a No. 4 rating are there for the fans to play with.

Coach likes it that way.

"Yeah, I shared (the ratings) with them," Hunter said, "but you shouldn't need outside things like that to motivate you.

"Hopefully, we've got a team that is motivated for each other. For the love of the game. For lacing them up every night and getting after it."

He continues...

"It's about being consistent. In basketball, you want it to be consistent all the time. Never too high. Never too low."

Maybe all this talk of consistency and effort is hyperbole. Motivational mumbo-jumbo from a coach looking to squeeze every ounce of enthusiasm out of his boys.

After all, for a team pointed toward a Central California Conference crown and a deep playoff run, the basketball season is a long, taxing process.

You've got to find ways to reinvent the wheel every night.

Or...

Maybe it's more than just hot air. Maybe it's the truth.

Because in a season of relative success, Golden Valley has been just average in the most critical phase of the game -- the road.

At the time of the section's first ratings release, GV's record away from Cougar Arena was 3-3, with losses to two potential playoff teams: Sierra and Pitman.

Hardly the mark of a champion. Hardly anything to cheer about.

"We're not there yet," Hunter said with stone-cold honesty. "We're still growing in that area. We have to be able to take our show on the road.

"I give us a C-minus on the road in the first half. We haven't proved anything. We have to go on the road and play with a high level of energy."

On Friday night, in one of the toughest venues in the CCC -- Turlock's close-quartered fieldhouse -- Hunter's boys went about fixing that grade.

Turlock was the perfect litmus test for Golden Valley, seeded seventh in Division I and as talented as any team around.

"We came in here with a chip on our shoulder," senior guard Alex Fletcher said. "We needed to prove to ourselves that we could win on the road."

Point proven.

Final score: Golden Valley 73, Turlock 66.

The keys to success went like this for the roadies:

Take care of the ball and stay out of foul trouble.

Golden Valley had only five first-half turnovers and found itself in the bonus with less than 5 minutes left in the first half.

In the end, Donte Scott was 10 of 10 from the free-throw line and Golden Valley made more free throws (19) than Turlock attempted (16).

Take out the crowd.

Turlock's cheer section -- a mustard-colored mob of letterman jackets -- was never much of a factor.

Fletcher provided the muzzle, nailing a spinning layup at the first-quarter buzzer to give Golden Valley a 23-21 lead.

The bucket was part of a 22-5 run that gave Golden Valley a double-digit lead it would maintain for most of the game.

Enforce your will and practice, uh, "positive-ism."

Golden Valley's shooters put on a show early, knocking down five first-quarter 3s, and the stars took over late.

Fletcher, Scott and John Sykes scored GV's final 16 points.

When Turlock made a last-ditch run, tying the game at 59-all, Golden Valley leaned on Hunter's sage-like advice.

Practice "positive-ism."

Whatever that means.

"I don't know if it's even a word. I think he made it up," Fletcher said. "But I guess it means to stay positive, so that's what we did."

GV tightened up defensively, forcing Turlock into wild 3s and off-balanced runners.

Turlock missed 9 of its last 11 shots as Golden Valley closed the game on a 14-7 run.

As for that road grade?

"Today's performance was in 'A' range," said Hunter, all smiles and handshakes after the game. "Actually, come to think of it, we did give up that 14-point lead. So maybe it was a B."

A strong B.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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