Vikings advance to NCS final

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Guarding top scorers can leave players feeling as if alone on an island, but Montgomery lockdown defender Quentin Mendoza was tough again as the Vikings defeated Northgate to reach the section basketball finals.

Montgomery's Karl Nimtz is at the bottom of a pile during a scramble for a loose ball. Photo by Kent Porter / The Press Democrat

Denying passes and fighting through screens, Mendoza limited Northgate’s Zach Corby to less than half the sharpshooter’s scoring average while hitting deep shots of his own in Montgomery’s 65-49 win at home Wednesday.

“It’s tough, but we felt that if we shut him down, we had a better chance,” Mendoza said. “I’m used to guarding high scorers.”

From a tight man-to-man defense to scoring inside and out, Montgomery is hitting its stride when games count most. A win in the North Coast Section Division II title game would assure the Vikings a home game in the Nor Cal half of the state playoffs.

“Our work’s not finished,” said center Ben Freeland, who led all scorers with 19 points.

Patient and disciplined for much of Wednesday’s contest, Montgomery largely dictated the pace against a team that wants to push and score in bunches.

“They were able to stop us better than we were able to stop them,” said Northgate coach Steve Mitchell. “We’re a running team and they played their game plan and executed well.”

Early, the Vikings worked the ball into Freeland for an assortment of up-and-under moves and hook shots. When defenders sagged to help on the big center, Zack Templeton and Alec Kobre hit open 3-pointers.

Another Kobre deep ball to open the second quarter gave Montgomery a 12-point lead. The deficit, though, served to spark a Northgate surge.

The Broncos went on an 11-3 run, led by Matt Butler. The swingman slashed to the basket, hitting only one jumper but going to the free-throw line for another five points, finishing the night with 12.

The loss of Freeland to foul trouble opened the inside more for Northgate. The center plays a critical role in Montgomery’s defense that relies on players rotating to help on ball handlers and open shooters.

That momentum carried into the second half. Northgate point guard Connor Jean scored 7 on pull up shots and drives, matching the seven spot he put up in the first quarter, the 14 points his total for the game. Corby scored 4 of his 7 on the night.

“I’m proud of my guys. They played hard,” Mitchell said.

Montgomery’s seven point halftime lead shaved to a basket several times in the quarter, the Vikings again fed Freeland to regain control.

Displaying a softer touch around the basket this season, Freeland’s hook shot has become toughest to defend.

“I was just feeling it,” he said.

So were Templeton and Mendoza. The scrappy shooter — Templeton — put in 7 of his 17 for the game in the third quarter. The strong defender — Mendoza — hit an open 3-pointer on his way to 14 for the contest.

“We shot the ball well tonight,” said Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie. “I like the way we’re playing.”

What worked against Northgate was running down the clock and getting good shots. Montgomery’s offense was the Vikings best defense by limiting Northgate possessions and forcing the Broncos into more half court possessions.

When the Broncos were able to push the ball on breaks and cut to the basket, Montgomery often had defenders back and hands in passing lanes.

“We just got active. We rotated well,” Fitchie said.

The defensive catalyst is Mendoza. His motor runs all four quarters, a product of better conditioning going into the season, he said.

“I feel stronger out there,” Mendoza said.

Montgomery also is brimming with confidence.

“It just sort of came as soon as playoffs started,” Freeland said. “We’ve just got to keep playing like we have been these last few games.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.