By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
MALVERN — This time last year Great Valley senior Pranav Hegde was sitting at home quarantined, battling COVID-19. He couldn’t taste anything. He was achy. It took away from his practice time with the Patriots’ varsity, taking a chunk of his confidence along with it.
Patriots’ coach CJ Savage liked the flickers he saw in the 5-11 point guard. He envisioned him handling his team. By the end of last season, fully recovered from the virus, Hegde was running the Pats.
Savage entered this season with even higher expectations and on Thursday night he received a good dose of what Hegde could do, when he dropped 12 points, 10 in the last quarter, of Great Valley’s 48-32 Ches-Mont League American Conference victory over visiting Sun Valley (1-2).
Great Valley senior Pranav Hegde had 10 of his 12 point in the fourth quarter of Thursday's win. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
Great Valley’s Jaxson Ray led all scorers with 13, while Sun Valley junior guard Noah Griffin led the Vanguards with 10.
Above all, Hegde attacked the basket, showing great ballhandling dexterity, weaving through the Sun Valley defense on a few occasions for layups.
He did exactly what Savage sees him doing more frequently this season.
“Last year, I had COVID to start the year, and I came back during Christmas after missing a lot of time,” Hegde said. “My coaches are always telling me to play downhill, because they feel I’m quick and can get to the basket. To start the year, I’ve been getting to the paint, and kicking out. Sometimes with the lane more open, I have to go in and finish.
“Tonight, I started bad. Sun Valley played off me in the first quarter. I like it when there is pressure on me, because I can penetrate. A lot of our wins we were blowing teams out. It was good the game was tight tonight for a half. We need to face that adversity, because we’re going to be playing better teams and we need to learn to pull away in close games.”
It’s exactly what Great Valley (4-1) did.
The Patriots held a 19-17 halftime lead, then went off on a quick 7-0 run to start the third quarter and seized control of the game. Sun Valley, meanwhile, struggled moving the ball on offense and were sluggish defensively, sometimes failing to slide over when Hegde or Ray drove the lane in the second half.
“We’ve been talking to Hegde and our guys about controlling the ball, and this has been a big step for him,” Savage said. “Pranav is quick and has strong ballhandling skills to drive to the basket. I see it in him. I see it in him more than he sees it in himself. A lot of teams don’t know how much speed Pranav has.
“Our offense is about moving the ball and working for layups. I want Pranav to go to the basket. His first quarter was okay, but he really took over the game in the fourth quarter. Pranav can play Division II basketball.”
Savage feels his team is playing better than expected at this point in the season. The Patriots lost four key starters last season that played the majority of the minutes, including Temple walk-on Connor Gal. They’ve won by convincing margins in each one of their four victories this year with a fairly new group.
Ray is back after missing last season with a shoulder injury.
“I liked how we responded to adversity tonight,” Savage said. “At halftime, it was a close game and we haven’t been in too many close games so far. Things haven’t been that close and we’re forcing teams to average 33 points a game. Sun Valley wanted to win this after losing to Rustin. They didn’t want to go down 0-2 in the Ches-Mont.”
Sun Valley has only played three games this season and it looked like it. The Vanguards played in energetic spurts, moving well without the ball on offense and pressuring on defense. Though as the game wore on, Sun Valley began to wear down.
“This was only our third game and with the limited fall, with four football players and three soccer players, it’s obvious we don’t have our legs yet,” said Sun Valley coach Steve Maloney, who’s done a very nice job with this program. “That’s my fault. I have to put these guys in a better position to win.
“We needed to make better adjustments at halftime. We didn’t. We got it within two, and against Great Valley, being down by eight is like being down by 40, because they control the ball and they do it well.”
Sun Valley started last year 1-3 and came back and won 16 games, and the Vanguards have four starters back.
“Coming back is not like uncharted territory for us,” Maloney said. “I just need to do a better job.”
Sun Valley (1-2): 8 | 9 | 7 | 8 || 32
Great Valley (4-1): 8 | 11 | 10 | 19 || 48
Sun Valley: Noah Griffin 10, Kaiden Robinson 8, Blaise Eldridge 5, Chris Kwaidah 4, Bucky Grayston 3, Noah Scott 2.
Conestoga: Jaxson Ray 13, Pranav Hegde 12, Jack Woodard 7, Will Otterbein 6, Noah Metrick 5, Tyler Markowski 3, Ryan McDaniel 2.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.