Kimberly Blough 6:28 p.m., March 9
Highlanders beat host Foothillers in high-stakes season finale
EL CAJON – In a winner-take-all showdown between Helix and Grossmont for the Grossmont Hills League championship on Friday night, the Highlanders defended their title. Helix broke free from a defensive struggle late in the third quarter and went on to beat Grossmont 54-43, capturing the league crown on the Foothillers’ court.
“It means a lot,” said Helix junior guard Titus Young. “We worked all season just to get here, and it finally paid off.”
Defense dominated the league title clash early, and Helix (17-9, 8-2) led 19-14 at halftime. Both teams looked to pound the ball inside from the start, and the first two quarters were played at a slow, methodical pace.
“The game plan was to take our time and play our game – get offensive rebounds, play defense, and just take over the game,” Young said.
Only one point separated Helix and Grossmont (14-12, 7-3) late in the third quarter when the Highlanders took control of the game. Sparked by a three-point play from junior forward Kaelen Mitchell, Helix scored the final 10 points of the period and took a 37-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had to grind it out because we knew they would be aggressive and trying play the foul game, but we felt like we had it under control,” said Helix senior forward Brian Valadez. “We thought we had them.”
In the fourth quarter Grossmont used a full-court press to slowly cut into Helix’s lead, and with 3:24 remaining the Foothillers pulled to within five of the Highlanders. Helix was able to absorb the run and put the game away from the free throw line, and in the final minute junior Romario Wilson punctuated the Highlanders’ victory with a two-handed slam dunk.
“It’s like a story and a happy ending pretty much,” Valadez said. “It feels great, especially against our rivals for the championship. It’s an amazing feeling and a great way to end my senior year.”
Valadez scored 17 points to lead Helix, finishing in double figures along with Young and Mitchell (11 points apiece). With the victory, the Highlanders avenged a 14-point home loss to Grossmont in the first round of league play.
“We played harder in this game than we did in our house because there was more on the line,” Young said. “We just came out and played harder.”
Helix finishes on top of the Grossmont Hills League for the second straight season, and is guaranteed a first round home game in the Division I playoffs. The Highlanders went 6-1 on their home floor this season.
“It’s a good thing for us to be on our home floor,” Young said. “It gives us an advantage.”
Senior guard Robby Nesovic led Grossmont with a game-high 23 points, including 17 in the second half. The Foothillers dedicated the game to the memory of football coach Ron Murphy, who died on Tuesday to end a battle with cancer.
Helix – 54 (10-9-18-17)
Valadez 17, Young 11, Anigbogu 5, Wilson 3, Todd 1 (starters) Mitchell 11, Mildenhall 4, Chandler 2
Grossmont – 43 (8-6-12-17)
Nesovic 23, Rustich 14, Swisher 4, Rahim 2, Herrod 0 (starters)
Pictured: Helix guard Kaelen Mitchell drives to the hoop past Grossmont forward Bilal Rahim
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