PORTLAND — It took a neutral site to reveal what had been plain on paper all along between MVC rivals Spruce Mountain and Mountain Valley.
Spruce Mountain is young, enthusiastic, resilient and building a bright future. Mountain Valley is experienced, determined, hard-nosed and has little choice but to live in the now.
The fourth-seeded Falcons live on after their 63-52 Western Class B boys' quarterfinal win over the fifth-seeded Phoenix Saturday at the Portland Expo. They advance to face top-seeded Falmouth in the semifinals at 9 p.m. on Thursday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
"We've got 10 seniors. We just pretty much said in the huddle 'This is our game to win,'" senior guard Jacob Theriault said. "We wanted to come out and prove ourselves to them."
Mountain Valley (13-6) took the lead with a 9-0 run to start the second quarter and never relinquished it. Junior-and-sophomore-dominated Spruce Mountain (14-6) made numerous runs in the second half, but poor free throw shooting (11-for-21) and allowing the Falcons second chances kept the Phoenix from getting over the hump.
"I don't know if it was the big stage or what, but the two areas that we struggled in obviously were rebounding and free throws," Spruce Mountain coach Chris Bessey said. "In the tournament, those are two areas that you have to do well in. It was too much of a disadvantage to overcome."
The teams split in their two regular-season meetings, with each winning at home. Spruce Mountain won two weeks ago, 64-53, in large part because it held Theriault, the Falcons' leading scorer, to four points.
Theriault matched that total in the first quarter on Saturday and ended up with a team-high 15 points.
"I had a lot of offensive fouls in that last game, so I wanted to play in control," Theriault said. "I think the last game I was out of control. They played good defense on me and I was just trying to do too much."
This time, it was the Phoenix shooters who appeared to be trying to do too much. Credit the Falcons for mixing things up things defensively and keeping the young Phoenix off-balance by alternating between 2-3 and 3-2 zones, with some man-to-man blended in.
"We wanted to switch it up a lot," Mountain Valley coach Tom Danylik said. "We went between two zone defenses, some man-to-man. We threw a press in there every now and then for the heck of it. It was definitely the boys being aware of what we wanted to be in and executing it. And we rebounded great in the first half."
"Effort and energy," senior forward Milo Jodrey said, explaining the Falcons' defense and rebounding. "We came out knowing this could be our last game and we tried to make it the best one we could."
Jodrey led the rebounding effort with nine, to go with nine points. Ryan Nicols added 11 points and seven rebounds for the Falcons.
Spruce rallied from a slow start to tie things up at 13-13 at the end of one. Sean Murphy put the Falcons up for good with a 3-pointer to start the second period. A runner by Theriault and a putback by Adam Volkernick (10 points) made it 22-13.
Deonte Ring (21 points) broke the string with what would prove to be Spruce's only field goal of the quarter (1-for-14). But the Falcons managed just one hoop, a Dom Haines putback, the rest of the half and led by just eight at intermission.
"We watched the Leavitt/Spruce (prelim) and we noticed that they had a tendency of just turning and looking (when a shot went up), so we wanted to crash and try to get second-chance opportunities," Jodrey said.
Mountain Valley pumped its lead up to as much as 11 early in the second half. A three-point play by Anthony York (11 points) helped Spruce pull within five, 39-34, heading into the fourth.
The Phoenix got to within four on two different occasions in the fourth, on 3-pointers by Andrew Darling and Ring. They had chances to make it even closer.
"A couple of times we had a chance to pull within a possession and we get two freebies and miss both of them. I can remember at least three occasions we missed two foul shots," Bessey said.
The Falcons, who were 18-for-30 from the charity stripe, went to the hoop aggressively to pull away from the line. Theriault drew a foul on a drive and converted the three-point play to make it 56-48 with 2:02 left.