RVC boys down Sonoma Academy

By PHIL BARBER
PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rincon Valley Christian defeated Sonoma Academy 57-44 in an NCL II boys basketball game Friday night at RVC. It's a score the older Eagles should remember — they lost to top-seeded Ferndale 57-44 in last year's North Coast Section Division 6 championship game.
 

RVC coach Darren Nelson didn't necessarily expect to get back to the section title game this year, but his team looks primed for another run after dispatching the Coyotes to improve to 10-0 in league play, and 16-5 overall. The Eagles have won 13 consecutive NCL II games.
 

“It’s been a little challenging. We have one senior, and he’s our only returning starter,” Nelson said. “We start a freshman and a sophomore. But now we’re hitting our stride.”
 

Rincon Valley came into Friday’s contest one game ahead of St. Vincent, and their season-ending confrontation on Feb. 10 looms as the small-school game of the year. Of course, the Eagles must attend to business before then, including three games next week.
 

They certainly didn’t show any signs of complacency against Sonoma Academy, using an 8-0 run at the end of the first quarter and a 10-0 streak at the end of the third quarter to build a commanding 48-29 lead. The Coyotes showed some fire and cut into that margin late in the game, but they did it with RVC's top two scorers, center Jacob Hicks and guard Kasey Cazet, already resting on the bench.
 

Cazet is the Eagles’ lone senior and returning starter. Nelson knew he could rely on the slasher as a steadying presence on the court. What he didn’t know was how much of a contribution he’d get from Hicks and his twin brother, Daniel. Both sophomores, they joined the program this season after Santa Rosa Christian shut its doors.
 

Jacob Hicks, who led RVC with 15 points, is a beefy inside presence and a difficult matchup for most small-school teams, including Sonoma Academy. He led the Eagles with 15 points Friday, many of them on second-chance shots, and he punctuated that third-quarter run with strong plays on both ends of the court. Hicks spun and scored with about 1:25 remaining in the period, then blocked a shot at the defensive end to initiate a shot-clock violation, then finished with a drive that bounced around and in with 28 seconds left.
 

Powered by Hicks and junior Zach Dance, RVC had a big edge in rebounds and second-chance shots. The Eagles also did a great job protecting the ball, with just six turnovers all evening. It was, in fact, a fundamentally sound game, as Sonoma Academy turned it over only eight times.
 

Cazet had 10 points, and Daniel Hicks had seven off the bench. Senior Benji Rifati led the Coyotes (10-9, 6-4) with 15 points and junior sharpshooter Austin Orr added 11.
 

The key now for Rincon Valley is to maintain consistency while keeping an eye on that showdown with St. Vincent, a team the Eagles beat 54-38 at home on Jan. 17.
 

“Every night, we’re playing for the league title,” Nelson said. “That’s been our focus since Day One. Now that we’re No. 1, we have a target on our backs. That’s the way we want it, but we get everybody’s best shot every night.”
Cazet, who normally plays more than 25 minutes a game, and might get just one break if a game is tight, knows the formula:

“Keep practicing hard and keep focused. Keep our intensity up in games we’re expected to win. Don't slip up on those.”
 

COYOTE GIRLS TRIUMPH
In the early game at RVC, the Sonoma Academy girls downed the home team 47-31 to stay in the hunt for an NCL II title. The Coyotes improved to 19-1 overall, and 9-1 in league action; they were a half-game behind St. Vincent (8-0) entering the night.
All-Empire player Kate Bayes led Sonoma Academy with 19 points, and Tori Gimpel add 10. Sophie Gaorian led Rincon Valley (10-10, 5-5) with 11 points.
 

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