Eagle Valley boys basketball comes back from 21-point deficit to defeat Basalt 59-57 in season opener | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley boys basketball comes back from 21-point deficit to defeat Basalt 59-57 in season opener

Devils were trailing 32-11 at one point in Thursday night road win

The Devils moved to 2-1 after beating Colorado Academy on Thursday and falling to Grand Junction Central on Friday.
Madison Rahhal/Courtesy photo

Coming off a regular season in which they only lost five games, the Devils boys basketball team wasn’t about to start 2022-23 with an 0-1 record. On Thursday night, Eagle Valley stormed back from a 32-11 deficit to win its season opener 59-57, on the road against Basalt.

“Just a ridiculous, crazy game,” head coach Justin Brandt said. Last season, the Devils went 18-5 before falling to Mesa Ridge in the state tournament. Having graduated a large proportion of the team’s athletic interior with the loss of multi-sport forwards Eric Hasley and Erich Petersen, Brandt and his crew tried to compensate by showing a full-court press coming out of the gates. The goal was to prevent Basalt, which was 7-13 last year, from exploiting the size differential.

 “We were not focused to start,” Brandt said, noting that Basalt was able to break the Devils’ full-court press with ease. Thanks to some hot first-half shooting, the Longhorns screamed out to the early lead. Eagle Valley adjusted, dropping into its half-court defense.

“We built a wall and slowly climbed back,” Brandt said. The play of backup point guard Hugo Garcia, who flew back from visiting family in Spain on Wednesday, was instrumental.

“He just came in and changed the script. Just brought great energy and was dictating to his teammates,” Brandt said of Garcia’s apparent jet lag immunity. “He really carried us.”

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At halftime, the coach preached about the need to create space for the team’s best shooters moving forward. His athletes responded. The 6-foot-5, sharpshooting Nikko Von Stralendorff went to work, collecting a team-leading 16 points. Branden Villalobos added 15.  

“Just some huge buckets down the stretch,” Brandt said. ”Those two really carry us, set the tone in practice and work hard.”

Von Stralendorff accumulated most of his minutes last season at the ‘three’ position, but this year, he’s taken over some ball-handling duties as well. “If teams run him tight, he can take two dribbles and pull-up,” Brandt said of the move to being a secondary point guard. As the team’s tallest player, he’s an inside threat as well, and although he’s been given free rein to post up, Brandt believes he serves the team most in the open.

“He’s just so versatile in space, we don’t post him up directly.”

The star’s catch-and-shoot skills stoke fear into opposing defenses, and this year, Brandt said Von Stralendorff has worked to complete his game going into his senior campaign.

“He can get to the paint more. He’s a finisher around the rim,” the coach commented. “He hasn’t lost his shot by any means — he might be even a better shooter, but he’s definitely rounding his game out which is beautiful to see.”

Offensively, the graduation of Bryan Martinez has forced the Devils to scheme out new ways of getting into the paint.

“He was so good at penetrating and creating,” Brandt said of Martinez. “This year, we’re going to need our offense to create more, not just our personnel create.”

On Thursday, as the Devils eventually established an inside-out groove and consequently, open looks materialized. Gunther Soltvedt, one of the team’s better shooters, nailed a few clutch 3-pointers as the Devils — who return only three players with significant varsity minutes — completed the 21-point comeback.

“It was a great game,” Brandt said. “It was definitely a team win.”

Eagle Valley plays Colorado Academy on Dec. 8 at a neutral site before contesting a neutral set of tournament games against Grand Valley and Canon City on Dec. 15.

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