Casa Grande boys advance to Div. 2 semifinals

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — The first half of Friday night’s North Coast Section Division 2 quarterfinal game was a defensive slog, and Casa Grande proved itself a little more physical than visiting Dougherty Valley. The second half turned into a shootout, and the Gauchos won that battle, too.

Casa Grande defender Chase Stafford, right, tries to keep up with Dougherty Valley's Daniel Araujo during their game at Casa Grande High School on Friday, February 25, 2011, in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)

“That’s the nice thing about this team. Many different players can do it in many different ways,” Casa coach James Forni said after his team’s 69-51 victory. “The reason we’ve been successful this season is there’s a lot of different things we can bring to the table. We can play fast, we can play slow. I mean, we can react to a lot of different things.”

More often than not, it was senior guard Joey Rodriguez doing the reacting against Dougherty Valley.

Rodriguez has been the Gauchos’ floor leader all year, but he has been battling a sore back in recent weeks. The situation didn’t get any better when he fell to the floor and had the wind knocked out of him in the first quarter. Those ailments, along with the Wildcats, weren’t nearly enough to stop Rodriguez on Friday.

Every time second-seeded Casa Grande needed a big play, it seemed, Rodriguez stepped forward. When No. 7 Dougherty Valley cut the Casa lead to two points in the second quarter, Rodriguez hit two free throws and started a 6-0 run to finish the half. The Wildcats trimmed it to six points twice in the fourth period, and Rodriguez answered both times, first with a 3-point shot, then with a big steal that set up junior guard Chase Stafford’s 3-pointer.

“If I feel our momentum slipping away, I like to step it up and get us the momentum again,” Rodriguez said.

After Stafford’s bucket, the score was never closer than nine points as the Gauchos ended the game on a 21-9 run. They helped themselves by hitting 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch.

Rodriguez’s final line was a decent season for some players: 25 points, four 3-pointers, 10 assists, six rebounds, six steals.

“I have full confidence in Joey,” senior guard Kyle Powell said. “When we need points, he’s the man to go to. If he doesn’t score, he’ll at least get to the line. And if he’s not in position to score, it’s because he’s put someone else in that position.”

Senior power forward Nick Sherry added 15 points and seven rebounds for Casa Grande. Stafford had 10 points and four steals, senior center Josh Hayworth grabbed 11 rebounds and Powell dished out six assists.

The Gauchos started slowly in this one, scoring just nine points in the first quarter and remaining behind until taking a 13-12 lead on Sherry’s inside basket 1:18 into the second period. They never trailed after that, easing away as they held Dougherty Valley to a meager four points in the second.

As usual, it was a bruising defense that sparked Casa Grande. The Wildcats turned over the ball 14 times and were forced into numerous awkward and off-line shots.

“We saw ’em on tape,” Dougherty Valley coach Mike Hansen said. “We knew they were physical, but gosh. I think we play pretty good defense. But they really play defense. They do a great job running through screens and crowding you. They bring a football mentality to a team playing basketball.”

In particular, the Gauchos did a masterful job against Dougherty senior forward Connor Griffin, who had torched Ukiah in a first-round game just three days earlier. Stafford and senior swingman Tony Tescallo shared primary defensive coverage on Griffin, with help all around, and the marksman wound up with just 12 points.

“We just made sure we didn’t leave him, and we always had one of our tougher defenders on him,” Forni said. “And we really tried to limit his looks at the basket.”

Junior guard Kenrick Wong added 10 for the Wildcats.

The teams combined for 40 points in the first half, 80 in the second as Dougherty Valley began to push the ball up the court faster. But as the Wildcats created more opportunities, the Gauchos began to hit their shots and control the boards.

Casa Grande plays Las Lomas at home on Wednesday, but has already sewn up its first-ever berth in the NorCal playoffs. All four section semifinalists advance.
“That’s great, but we definitely want to keep going (in NCS),” Forni said.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.