Montgomery boys pull away for NCS win

Montgomery's Ben Freeland goes up for two as Concord's Mike Adams defends during the NCS playoffs held at Montgomery High School on Tuesday. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ditching the face mask for a broken nose, Zack Templeton played plenty tough in leading the Montgomery boys over Concord in the first round North Coast Section playoff action.

Montgomery’s 50-31 win was closer than the final score showed, with Templeton’s point-guard play and Quentin Mendoza’s defensive effort helping the Vikings pull away after the Minutemen cut the lead to three points in the third quarter.

“We just had to start playing a little harder again. We took it to them,” Templeton said.

What the Vikings did was regain the crisp passing and ball movement inside, much as Montgomery did in building a double digit first-quarter lead.

Putting together a 10-0 run at the end of the third quarter and early in the fourth gave Montgomery its largest lead to that point, and Concord didn’t have an answer.

The success Concord found in poking holes in Montgomery’s defense to close the first and open the second half wilted under the Vikings’ defensive pressure. Concord struggled for open shots as Montgomery’s defenders moved well and helped one another.

“We cut their lead back down. But they chopped us up and wore us down a little,” said Concord coach Ted McDavitt. “Montgomery is more than a handful.”
Despite spotty play in the second quarter, Montgomery played with the poise and confidence of a top playoff seed. Strong defensive stretches were the difference in the opening win.

“We’re playing defense well. It really starts there and ends there,” said Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie.

Montgomery opened the game creating lanes for drives to the basket and passes to open shooters on the wings.

Both center Ben Freeland and Templeton scored a pair of baskets close in as Montgomery led by a dozen in the first quarter. Templeton led all scorers with 14. Freeland and Alec Kobre each tallied 12 points for the Vikings.

Scoring proved far more difficult in the second quarter, when the Vikings’ only basket came on an Alec Kobre’s jumper to beat the shot clock.

Concord strung together a handful of baskets around the one Montgomery score. Alex Ruiz had 4 of his 6 on the night, hitting deep jumpers to get the attention of Montgomery defenders.

Going back inside to Freeland, the Vikings regained momentum in the third quarter. But the Minutemen were not easily rattled.

Leading scorer Tylek Farley, with 8 points in the game, finally made the scoring sheet with a pair of baskets on midrange shots that Montgomery did a fine job of limiting much of the game. Farley’s second score narrowed the Montgomery lead to 25-22.

Tighter defense triggered Concord turnovers and fueled the Montgomery surge that decided the contest as the Vikings went up 35-22 before Concord scored its first basket of the final period.

Freeland, Kobre and Templeton were on the scoring end of sharp, transition basketball that included a pair of fast break baskets by reserve Karl Nimtz, one of the Vikings defensive stalwarts.

Anchoring the defense was Mendoza, often the fastest player on the court. The guard slowed Concord’s efforts to push the pace and prevented easy fast-break baskets on a couple of occasions.

While the Vikings are experienced and rarely hurt themselves, the Minutemen are young and needed a strong run in league play just to make the playoffs.

“I was real happy with my team’s effort,” McDavitt said. “We snuck into the playoffs with a real young team. It’s a building block for them to see what NCS basketball is all about.”

Montgomery’s seniors have the Vikings prepared for the playoffs. Templeton’s improved play is one example.

Known for an often accurate deep jump shot, Templeton has been driving to the basket more this season. A little taller and stronger than a year ago, Templeton still is often is the smallest player on the court. But his more attacking style this season opens up the offense.

“I’m driving a lot more. I’m more confident,” Templeton said.

Even after breaking his nose late in the season, Templeton can bang with bodies around the basket, though he often ends up on the hardwood. He has stopped wearing a protective face guard because it affected his shooting.

“I’m just going to risk it,” Templeton said.

Such gritty determination rubs off on a Montgomery team that doesn’t want the season to end short of a section title.

“We just want to get better and go as far as we can” Templeton said.