Strongest field yet for Tip-Off Classic

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The strongest field in the 11-year history of the Russ Peterich Tip Off Classic, including Empire teams Montgomery and Casa Grande, has been assembled for the three-day tournament that begins today in the Vikings’ gym.

Montgomery's Ben Freeland, left and Alec Kobre, center, are two of four returning starters for Montgomery this season. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD)

Casa will take the floor at 7 p.m. for its game with California of San Ramon. Montgomery and Vista del Lago meet in the 8:30 p.m. nightcap.

The opening day action begins at 4 p.m. when Monte Vista and Campolindo take the court. The 5:30 game pits Redwood against Dougherty Valley.

On Friday, the first-round winners play the two late games while play in the losers’ bracket begins at 4 p.m.

The Classic will culminate with the championship game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

This season’s eight entrants have combined to win nine North Coast Section championships since 1998. Montgomery also claimed the NorCal title in 1998.

“I think year-after-year this tournament attracts quality teams and this group looks like the best group we’ve had,” said Tom Fitchie, coach of host Montgomery.

Besides the two Sonoma County teams, there are two coming from San Ramon while the other teams are journeying from Danville, Folsom, Larkspur and Moraga.

Montgomery’s first game pits veteran coach Fitchie against one of his former players, Matt von Tillow.

“This’ll be interesting,” Fitchie said with a chuckle. “Matt was on the good teams I had seven and eight years ago with Tyler Tiedeman.”

This is Von Tillow’s first year as head coach. After handling the Vista del Lago junior varsity last year, he moved up to the varsity when the position opened.

Last year, en route to a 28-4 season, the Eagles beat Montgomery, 59-50, in the championship game of the Peterich Classic.

The Vikings and the Folsom team have both played one game on the road this season. Montgomery defeated Washington of San Francisco, 55-41, while Vista del Lago lost to Bella Vista, 52-47.

The Vikings have four starters back from last year’s team that finished 23-8. Sharp-shooting Alec Kobre, 6-foot-9 Ben Freeland and guards Quentin Mendoza and Zack Templeton are the returning starters.

“Kobre and Freeland were our leading scorers,” Fitchie said. “In fact, I only lost one of my top eight players from last year. So, we’re deep and I have high expectations. This is a good group of kids that work hard in practice.”

Speaking of practice, Casa Grande hasn’t had one with its full team this year. That’s because three of its top players — Nick Sherry, Makana Garrigan and Jonathon Cole — are still playing football.

The Gauchos face Concord in the NCS Division II semifinal Friday. After football season, it will take a few weeks for the trio to get into basketball shape. Last year, Casa finished with a 17-11 record.