With friendly family members on rival coaching staffs, the league-leading Valley Buffalos tussled the RPI-hungry Piute Thunderbirds (8-4), in the throes of a four-game winning streak, to a strongly competitive overtime road victory on February 6.

Sporting a 20-16 halftime edge, Buffalo head coach Owen Hoyt urged offensive patience vs. panic mode, as well as guarding against open looks for three-pointers from the corners.

At the end of the third frame Valley led 36-27; but by the 2:40 mark in the fourth, the soaring T’birds had made a 10-2 run, to come within one, at 38-37.

That’s when high-scoring (255 on the year, including 43 treys) point guard Conner Chamberlain collapsed to the floor, suffering a knee to the rear of his head in a frantic scrum for the ball, having to be assisted from the game by teammates into the waiting arms of coach Nick Hoyt, a Kane County Deputy Sheriff and Registered Nurse. He, along with Conner’s dad, Jeremy, would sequester the ailing player down off to an alcove of the gym for treatment.

With Piute’s threatening momentum, and perhaps more importantly, a possibly looming two-week concussion  protocol on the line, Valley fans were understandably apprehensive about the team’s future.

Following four points off two consecutive steals within 16 seconds, the T’birds flew to a 41-38 advantage with 1:07 remaining.

Buffalo shooting guard Casey Reck was fouled for a one and one, netting the first. The second fortuitously rimmed off the side into the extended hands of 6’8” Braden Heaton for the immediate putback, and the ultimate tie 41-41 with 1:02 to go.

In OT, hopes remained high, even without the formidable presence of Chamberlain. And still knotted at 3:24, Reck drove in for a deuce off the glass, 43-41.

At 3:10, Braden was issued his third foul and secured his 10th rebound, after the missed second shot of a one and one: 43-42. Reck came through once again with a jumpshot from the right side of the key: 45-42, with 1:37 on the clock. 

A wayward three-pointer from the left side corner, having been challenged by the intimidating Heaton, careened long off the iron. It was tipped toward out-of-bounds by Piute, caroming off Casey’s left hand, where a T’bird leaping over the boundary line saved it, flipping it in-bounds again to Ricky Bullock in the opposing corner.

Quickly surrounded by two Piute players, he was able to get a pass off under the bucket to Reck, who avoided an impending foul by tossing the ball over to Gavin, beyond the arc on the left side. 

Instinctively, Hoyt two-handedly thrusts it the length of the court to Heaton, who alongside Jerry Gerard, is standing under the net. With one bounce, rising up, he decisively sinks the Thunderbirds for the night.

Afterwards, coach Owen Hoyt commended both teams for a well-played defensive contest that “could’ve gone either way.” And at the same time, he counts his squad “battle-tested” going into Regionals, “just trying to shore up some things; we’ll be playing some good teams.”