Spartans defeat Parlier in first playoff game under new head coach, win first league title in nearly six decades
STRATHMORE – Israel Valdez has been Strathmore’s head coach for just three months and has already led them to a playoff victory and the first East Sequoia League (ESL) title in 57 years. Last Saturday they defeated the Parlier Panthers 42-31 in the quarterfinal round of the Division V Valley playoffs.
Following a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed, the Spartans are now just one game away from a Valley championship appearance. They opened the contest against Parlier with a 9-2 run and remained in control of the game’s pace from that point on. Senior Jose Martinez had a buzzer beating putback at the end of the second quarter to give the Spartans a 17-14 lead heading into halftime. He finished the game with a team high 14 points.
The game stayed tight through the third as Strathmore had a slight four-point lead heading into the final period. They saved their best quarter for last as they scored 15 points in the fourth to put the game out of reach.
According to Valdez, defense has been the catalyst for the team all year. They’re riding an eight-game win streak and have allowed 39 points or less in each game. They’ll face their biggest test of the season tonight at 6 p.m. as they take on No. 1-ranked Fowler that has averaged over 70 points per game this season.
Perhaps defense has been the strength of the Spartans since their first three weeks of practice was on a tennis court, because they didn’t have access to a basketball court. They used that time to implement their defensive principles under the new head coach, and Valdez believes that those practices laid the foundation for the success they’ve had so far.
Once they finally made it on to a basketball court, they had just two days before their season opener against Granite Hills. Valdez had no prior film on his new squad, but he did have senior Owen Patterson, a three-year varsity starter, to build around.
“Everything that we do revolves around giving him the ball in the post and then we just build off of that,” Valdez said.
Prior to landing his first head coaching job on March 3, Valdez spent the last four seasons as a basketball official for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Central Section. Before that, the Porterville High School alum spent the two previous seasons as an assistant coach for his alma mater’s varsity boys’ basketball team, and was a part of their most recent Valley Championship win in 2015.
As far as his vision for the team moving forward, Valdez doesn’t promise championships. He promises the incremental improvement, both on and off the court, for the players that come through the program.
“We promise that they’ll get better in terms of skills, being stronger, and their academics. If we can get better, then success will come,” Valdez said.