The Valley boys’ basketball team had a chance to clinch at least a tie for the CIML Conference title on Friday.
But visiting Ankeny had a lot to play for, too.
The Hawks scored the final 10 points of the game over the last 3 minutes 53 seconds to post a 76-72 victory over third-ranked Valley, knocking off the defending Class 4A state champions and improving their own odds of receiving a No. 1 seed for substate play.
“It was great. It was a lot of fun and a great high school game,” said Ankeny coach Brandt Carlson. “The kids really enjoyed it obviously, and hopefully the fans did, too. We’ll see how it helps us moving forward.”
Ankeny avenged a 67-48 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 30. Carson Johnson sat out that game due to an injury, but he poured in 24 points on Friday, including a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds left to seal the win.
Johnson called it one of the biggest victories of his four-year varsity career.
“This one’s got to be up there,” Johnson said. “We came in knowing this was going to be a really tough battle, and we’d have to play really well and together to get this one. It feels really good.”
There were 11 lead changes and three ties in the fast-paced contest. Valley went on a 9-2 run midway through the fourth quarter to take a 72-66 lead, but the Tigers’ final basket came on a dunk by Trevin Jirak with 4:20 remaining.
“Really, it just started on defense,” Johnson said. “We got six stops at the end. That really got us back in the game and gave us confidence at the end.”
Luke Anderson made a 3-point goal, his only basket of the game, to ignite the Hawks’ late run. Rio Aguirre followed with another trey to tie the game at 72-72 with 2:40 to go.
Aguirre drove for a layup with 1:30 left to put Ankeny ahead for good. He finished with 18 points.
“I was just looking to take what was there,” said Aguirre. “My teammates definitely trust me to make plays at the end, but we don’t really care who it goes to. We’re all in this together. Whoever’s time it is to make a play, that’s who will do it.”
Valley’s Curtis Stinson Jr. scored all 15 of his points in the second half, but he missed a short bank shot in the final seconds that could have tied the game. He was well-defended on the play by Cash Schoolen, who switched onto Stinson after a pick by Jirak.
Johnson rebounded the miss and was fouled.
“I was really wanting to get these guys,” said Johnson, who also grabbed six rebounds and dished out seven assists. “When I was out (of the lineup), my team played a really good game and showed they could keep it close. Coming back, I knew we could get this one.”
Schoolen had 14 points and six rebounds for Ankeny, which earned its fourth straight win. Lio Aguirre added 13 points.
The Hawks finished 11-5 in the conference and improved to 14-6 overall. Valley’s records dropped to 12-4 and 14-5.
No. 7 Waukee can capture the league crown with a victory over Southeast Polk on Saturday.
“We don’t really pay a whole lot of attention to (the conference standings),” Johnson said. “We just wanted to come out here and compete as hard as we could.”
Zay Robinson led Valley with 20 points. Jirak finished with 19.
Ankeny made 12 3-pointers and showed that it could beat one of the state’s best teams on the road.
“I hope (this win shows that we can beat anyone),” Carlson said. “That’s what you want your kids to always believe. Every game and every situation is different. But our kids are playing really well right now, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Ankeny jumped out to a 33-16 lead in the first half. Johnson banked in a 3-pointer to end the first quarter, sparking a 13-0 run.
The Aguirre brothers then followed with two more treys to open the second period, extending the margin to 29-16.
“Carson’s a big part of our team. You could definitely tell with this win,” said Rio Aguirre. “But we have confidence in our whole team. We’re always ready to play. That (first) game (against Valley) was just a learning experience for us. We came back ready to play tonight.”
Valley closed the gap to 38-33 at halftime, then took a 45-43 lead when Stinson followed his own miss midway through the third quarter. The Tigers eventually built a 63-55 advantage on a 3-pointer by Jayden McGregory early in the final period, but Ankeny then responded with two treys by Lio Aguirre and another by Johnson in a span of just 70 seconds to regain the lead.
That set the stage for a thrilling finish.
“It definitely feels great,” Rio Aguirre said.
Ankeny will likely move into the final Class 4A rankings on Monday, when the postseason brackets will also be announced. The Hawks will host Norwalk (14-3) to close out the regular season on Monday, but the non-conference game will have no impact on the rankings and brackets.
“It would be great to get a No. 1 seed,” Carlson said. “Obviously, the state has their plan and what they’re going to do. That’s all out of our control. We’re just going to try to keep getting better.”