No lack of NorCal motivation for Vikings

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Alec Kobre’s copy is in his bedroom, taped up next to his desk. It’s an article from the Roseville Press-Tribune, dated March 9, 2010, and it begins like this: “The game felt like a mismatch from the outset, and except for the fact that Oakmont went into cruise control for portions of the night, it was just that.”

Montgomery's boys basketball team, coached by Tom Fitchie, is a close-knit group. Photo by Kent Porter / The Press Democrat

It was a game recap from the Montgomery boys’ 69-54 loss to Oakmont in the 2010 CIF state Division II basketball championships, and it stung — mostly because it told the truth.
Vikings coach Tom Fitchie printed copies of the article and distributed them to his players, telling them to post the text in a prominent place and refer to it enough to make the experience indelible. Kobre said he still looks at it from time to time.

“Oakmont was better, but our performance wasn’t as good as it should have been,” Fitchie said this week. “I think our kids understand that. I think they proved that the last few games.”
Montgomery does not lack for motivation as it prepares for its first appearance in the 2011 state championships, a second-round home game against Woodcreek tonight. The Vikings were inspired by junior forward Brian McCammon, who returned to root on his teammates after a devastating car crash in January, and spurred by an upset loss to Ukiah in the North Bay League tournament semifinals.

Most of all, the Vikings are driven by last year’s CIF NorCal experience, which whetted their appetites for higher glory.

“The good was the experience of CIF,” Kobre said. “The bad was that we got killed.”
To be sure, this year’s Montgomery team is a different ball of wax. The Vikings went into last year’s state tournament as a No. 11 seed, having lost in the North Coast Section semifinals. This year’s squad, with almost every significant player returning, clinched a No. 2 seed and a first-round bye by virtue of capturing the section Division II title. Monty enters NorCal with a shimmering 28-3 record.

Not that anything will come easy at this point. Thursday’s opponent comes packed with talent and tradition.
Woodcreek won the NorCal regional in 2003, five years after Montgomery did the same. Last year, the Timberwolves lost to St. Francis of Mountain View on a last-second shot in the NorCal final. This year, they graduated six of their top seven scorers, underwent a coaching change — and somehow didn’t fall off a bit.

Woodcreek (25-5) would have gained a much higher seed in this tournament if it hadn’t been upset by Antelope — another last-second decision — in the semifinals of the Sac Joaquin Section brackets.
The Timberwolves are led by Devin Murphy, a 5-foot-11 floor leader who paces the team in rebounds (6.8 per game) and assists (6.2), and is second in points (11.6). The scoring leader is John Peska, who averaged 20 a game during the season and poured in 31 in Woodcreek’s 55-54 avenging victory (you guessed it, on a last-second shot) over St. Francis in a first-round game Tuesday. New coach Paul Hayes isn’t really new at all; he coached Woodcreek to that 2003 title before turning his attention to the JV the past few years.

Murphy and Peska lead a group of five seniors who have played together on varsity for four years, and recently surpassed 100 victories at the school.
That might sound familiar to the Vikings, a close-knit group with strong senior leaders, some of whom — like Kobre, Zack Templeton, Anthony Becker and Chris Kelly — have played together since CYO in the third grade.

“You come in with the three of ’em who have been starting for three years (Kobre, center Ben Freeland and guard Quentin Mendoza), you throw in guys like Templeton, and we have some pretty good players,” Fitchie said. “I think they really just like what they’re doing. They like to compete.”
Montgomery went undefeated in the NBL and undefeated in the NCS playoffs, and is fully prepared to make some noise — literally as well as figuratively, judging by recent home attendance — in the state regional.

“The crowd has been really good this year,” Kobre said. “Last year we went and played in the O-Zone (at Oakmont), and it was a little intimidating. We can be like that, too. I think you’ll see a huge crowd on Thursday.”

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