Not only did the Vikings (4-12 overall, 4-1 Desert League) put things together at the end, they did it in the second quarter.
After a slow, defensive-minded first quarter that left the score tied at 6, Holtville's offense scored the first point of the second quarter and added 16 more. The Hornets (15-9, 4-1) fell behind 23-9 at the break after just scoring three points in the second stanza, courtesy of a trey by Jorge Navarro.
Strong put in 10 points and Eric Cueto added nine of his 12 points and seven of his 16 rebounds in the first half to control the inside game for Holtville.
The second half didn't begin any better for the Hornets as the Vikings jumped their lead to 33-12. Carlos Perdomo put home most of the early points with six in a 10-3 burst.
Calipatria seemed to awaken after going down by 20.
With 3:26 remaining in the third quarter, Jorge Navarro nailed two free throws to start a 13-6 quarter-ending run to cut the deficit to 39-25. The Hornets' Ezequiel Navarro had five points in the run and Steven Garcia, who led his squad with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Jorge Navarro had four points each.
"They didn't play a good first half at all," said Viking coach John Reschert of the opposition. "Toward the end of the third quarter, however, they started to contest us inside and we couldn't score at all."
The defensive trend continued in the final period as the Hornets stymied Holtville on nearly every possession and the Calipatria offense began to take shape. Calipatria nailed three-pointers for its first three baskets, including two by Eric Somers. Somers had to leave the game after his second trey, however, as he was discovered to have fouled out the play before.
The Hornets put on a 13-2 run, tying the game at 44-44 following Somers' second three. Strong made a free throw to give his squad a one-point edge, but Calipatria's Vontray Taylor followed with a layup to put his team ahead 46-45 with just over two minutes remaining.
"We started playing their game," said Strong. "They play fast-tempo basketball and we got into it with them. It was really hard to get past their cheering crowd and the tempo kept increasing and that's not our game. We're more of a set-offense team."
As the clock started to wind down, Calipatria began to foul to try to get the ball. Perdomo missed two free throws, but the Hornets misfired on the next play and Preston George was sent to the line after he grabbed the rebound. George made both to give his squad a 47-46 lead with 1:29 remaining.
Calipatria missed another attempt after the pair of foul shots and Strong took the rebound the length of the floor for a layup with a minute remaining to make the score 49-46. The Hornets' hurried shots came up short, but Calipatria had its opportunities to knot the game as Holtville missed its final six free throws.
"You can't get behind by that much and come back," Calipatria coach Robert Romero said. "We told the kids when we were up by one to run some clock but they didn't and we lost one of our key players to fouls. This was the third time we've lost to Holtville in a homecoming game. It's starting to become a trend."
Added Reschert, "Defensively we played excellent. We were very aggressive and forced them to take some bad shots down the stretch and they couldn't put any in."
The squads are now both in must-win situations to claim the DL crown. The Vikings will continue on the road with a 7 p.m. contest Tuesday at Imperial, while Calipatria will remain home for a game against Vincent Memorial at the same time and date.
Vincent Memorial 41
CALEXICO — Despite a game-high 18 points from Dominic Jacobelli, the Vincent Memorial boys basketball team still lost 78-41 to Imperial High in Desert League action here Friday.
Leading Imperial were Matt Jones with 15 points and seven rebounds and Brenden Lopez with 10 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Chris Naylor added 12 points and Patrick Naylor chipped in 10 for Imperial.
Both teams play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, with the Tigers (2-3 DL) hosting Holtville and Vincent (0-5) playing at Calipatria.