Montgomery, Casa a one-two NCS punch

By PHIL BARBER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Casa Grande coach James Forni found out that his team had drawn the No. 2 seed in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs, he immediately texted his players.
“Now that we got what we wanted, it’s one game at a time,” Forni wrote after Sunday’s seeding meeting. “Every practice could be your last.”
The only team higher than the Gauchos in Div. 2 is Montgomery, the top seed.
They, along with Rincon Valley Christian (No. 2 in small-school Div. 6), were the highest-ranked teams from the Empire. The tournament begins Tuesday.
Other well-regarded teams include Analy, which got a No. 3 in Div. 3; Cardinal Newman, the No. 3 in Div. 4; Point Arena, the No. 4 in Div. 6; and Anderson Valley, the No. 5 in Div. 6.
RVC and Analy get first-round byes.
The only local head-to-head matchup in the first round is No. 9 Tomales at No. 8 Laytonville. That one is Wednesday night.
The second round could have some interesting matchups, though. If Montgomery dispatches No. 16 Concord, as expected, it could get another date with eighth-seeded Maria Carrillo, a team that played the Vikings close in two North Bay League games this season.
The No. 8 Pumas play host to Dublin on Tuesday.
“We’ll definitely have somebody at the game,” Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie said. “We’ll see what Dublin has, and of course we know Maria Carrillo pretty well. We’re fortunate that we get to stay in town.”
Point Arena and Anderson Valley are favored to meet in the second round. That would settle their NCL II North rivalry for the year, with the teams having split their two contests. The playoff game would be at Point Arena.
And if No. 10 Ukiah can find a way to knock off seventh-seeded Dougherty Valley in round one, it could set up a great individual battle. Ukiah’s Cesar Mendoza and Casa Grande’s Joey Rodriguez are two of the best guards in the Empire, each a candidate for player of the year.
“I’ve seen (Mendoza) play before, and he’s exactly like Joey,” Forni said. “He does it all. He scores, he passes, he plays defense.”
Unfortunately for the Gauchos, Rodriguez isn’t entirely healthy. His back has been troubling him — to the extent that he didn’t start against Windsor in the Sonoma County League tournament final on Saturday. Casa guard Tony Tescallo rolled an ankle recently, and it’s unclear whether either player will be 100 percent for NCS.
What is certain is that Casa Grande (24-4) and Montgomery (24-2), both league champions as well as high seeds, are assured home games up to the final round, which would be played on a neutral court.
“We really wanted to put ourselves in this position,” Forni said. “We’re undefeated at home this year.”