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AOW: Strong leading Vikings turnaround

February 13, 2001|By JON HINSHAW, Sports Writer

Going into the Desert League season, the Holtville High School boys basketball team was 0-11 and reeling from a disciplinary action that wiped out nearly half the squad and resulted in a coaching change.

Many in the local basketball community didn't think the Vikings had a chance in the DL.

Holtville has shocked the doubters by compiling a 4-1 record in the DL, with its latest victory at Calipatria. Through the topsy-turvy year one player has been the team's go-to guy — Michael Strong.

"People said this team wouldn't be viable," said Strong, "and now we're proving we are."

Strong, a 17-year-old senior in his second year on the varsity, has led the Vikings to their status atop the DL by putting the ball in the hoop and making plays all over the court. On Friday in a tight 49-46 victory, Strong poured in 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help his squad fight off a huge comeback by previously DL-undefeated Calipatria. Strong also contributed 21 points and 18 rebounds in a win Tuesday at Vincent Memorial.

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"I'm doing the best that I can to help this team right now," said the 6-foot-1 Strong, "but it's a team game and I couldn't have done it without my teammates. I feel I have stepped up as of late because I'm one of the returnees from last year that is still on the team.

"During the first part of the year I was forcing my game because I thought I had to but now I'm using the aid of my teammates to supplement my game," he continued. "I still feel I have a lot of responsibility, though."

Strong thinks the entire team played a part in the turnaround and it all began against Imperial on Feb. 2. Down five with 42 seconds to play, the Vikings scored the game's final eight points. While Strong had a big three-pointer that closed the gap to one, other Holtville players came up with free throws, steals and defense that helped seal the win.

"The Imperial game really turned things around for us," said Strong. "Everybody put their heads together and decided we had to turn things around now and winning in the last few seconds really opened our eyes that we had a chance."

The Vikings face Imperial again in their final game of the season — at 7 tonight — with DL and CIF playoff ramifications. A win would guarantee Holtville the top playoff seed from the DL by virtue of its second-round victory over Calipatria. A loss, coupled with a Calipatria win at home against Vincent, would drop the Vikings to second place and would mean it having to state its case to the San Diego section playoff board.

Strong is confident about tonight's game but realizes both squads have the playoffs at stake.

"The general consensus of most people is that they have confidence in us. The people on the team have guarded confidence," Strong said. "We didn't roll Imperial the last time we played them. It was a hard game. (Tonight's) game is going to be intense. They play a very similar style as we do. I think we have to spread the ball around and get everyone involved to win. I will take some of the responsibility in the game but one person can't be the team."

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