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Highlanders hand sixth-ranked Matadors first local loss

LA MESA – Traditional East County power Helix may be having a down season, but on Wednesday night the Highlanders rose to the occasion. Led by stellar half-court defense, Helix held sixth-ranked Mount Miguel to a season-low total in a 49-42 upset victory.

“The key was team defense. That’s all coach emphasized – defense, defense, defense,” said Helix senior forward Brian Valadez. “We had to defend their shooters and close out, and we did everything right.”

From the opening tip, Helix (8-7) set the tone with its defense. The Highlanders kept Mount Miguel (14-2) off the board for the first five minutes of the game and led 8-7 after the first quarter.

“We wanted to keep them out of the lane and close out on shooters,” Valadez said. “We did that pretty well – that’s why they couldn’t score as much as they usually do.”

Late in the second quarter, Mount Miguel went on a 6-0 run to make it 18-17 with 36 seconds left. Helix responded with the final four points of the half, including a Valadez half-court three-pointer at the buzzer.

“I just shot it and it went in,” Valadez said. “It was a momentum booster. It helped us going into the second half.”

Helix led 31-26 at the start of the fourth quarter, and with six minutes left the Highlanders had a 37-30 lead when Mount Miguel rallied. The Matadors went on an 8-0 run to take the lead with 3:54 remaining on a three-point play by junior guard Izzy Wagner.

“Mount Miguel is a good team – they’re tough defensively and they don’t back down,” said Helix coach John Singer.

Behind for the first time since the opening quarter, Helix responded with five straight points to build a 42-38 lead with 2:54 to play. Leading by seven in the final minute, the Highlanders sealed the upset win when Valadez stole an inbounds pass that Mount Miguel rolled in attempting to save time.

“I saw it in their faces – the way they play I knew they were going to want to roll the ball,” Valadez said. “I just saw it and took off for it. They weren’t looking, so I managed to get the steal. I wanted that ball.”

Valadez scored 16 points to lead Helix to its fifth win in six games. The Highlanders’ seven-point victory over Mount Miguel is one of the most surprising results of the 2011-12 season.

“We just proved everybody wrong and it feels so good,” Valadez said. “We’re not just a pushover team. We’re actually Helix and we’re back. Our record doesn’t show a lot but we’re back.”

Senior guard Marcus Booker led Mount Miguel with 16 points, and Wagner added 14. The loss was the Matadors’ first to a San Diego team this season.

Helix – 49 (8-14-9-18)

Valadez 16, Randall 7, Wilson 6, Young 5, Todd 2 (starters) Mitchell 9, Chandler 4

Mount Miguel – 42 (7-10-9-16)

Booker 16, Wagner 14, Butler 6, Littleton 2, Wills 2 (starters) Jackson 2

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Pictured: Mount Miguel guard Marcus Booker steps back from Helix forwards Derrick Chandler (43) and Isaac Randall

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