By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — After splitting a pair of games with St. Vincent and finishing tied for the North Central League II boys basketball title last season, Rincon Valley Christian players vowed to do better this year.
“I had them sit down without me to make goals for the season,” Eagles coach Darren Nelson said following Tuesday’s 67-30 rout on the Mustangs’ floor. The only one “was to go unbeaten in league,” he said.
With the Eagles sitting at 15-3 overall and 7-0 in league, Nelson’s tall, fundamentally sound club could be forgiven for looking ahead to the North Coast Section playoffs, where RVC has lost two consecutive championship games to Ferndale. But for now, the coach said his team just hopes to keep winning and let a potential No. 1 Division 6 playoff seed take care of itself.
The Eagles wasted little time Tuesday in showing that they’re the class of the NCL II, scoring the final 18 points of the first quarter and establishing a huge lead that was never threatened by a cold-shooting Mustangs team.
It seemed that no matter what strategy St. Vincent tried to disrupt the Eagles’ offense, Nelson’s squad quickly adapted and capitalized.
The Mustangs, at an obvious size disadvantage, repeatedly tried to clog the paint to take away easy buckets from RVC’s 6-foot-6 center Zacchaeus Dance, but guard Cavin Hawkins made the Mustangs pay. The senior scored 24 points on the night, hitting seven 3-pointers.
Point guard Garrett Robert had a terrific all-around game, filling up the stat sheet with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
“He has a very good feel for the game, just natural instincts,” Nelson said of his senior point guard, who played varsity ball as a sophomore before taking his junior year off and returning to the floor as a senior.
After playing the Eagles roughly even in the second quarter, the Mustangs began the second half trying to aggressively trap RVC’s ball handlers.
The Eagles’ guards responded by quickly getting the ball upcourt and finding Dance being single-covered in the paint. Dance had eight quick points in the third to effectively end any threat the Mustangs might muster. The biggest player on the court — St. Vincent’s tallest player is 6-foot-3 — Dance finished with 14 points and helped the Eagles dominate the boards.
“We like to be prepared for anything,” Nelson said of the Eagles’ ability to adapt to St. Vincent’s defense. Quick to credit his players, Nelson said he and his staff go over in practice what the Eagles are likely to face in game situations and that his players just take it from there.
The undersized Mustangs needed to shoot lights-out to win, but even easy fast-break layup attempts seemed to have a way of just rimming out.
Senior point guard Evan Knight led the Mustangs with 12 points, all from 3-pointers.
GIRLS: ST. VINCENT 52,
RINCON VALLEY CHRISTIAN 16
In the girls game, the Mustangs stayed in the thick of the NCL II league race with an easy win as Grace Jennings scored 10 points.
With Tuesday’s win, St. Vincent improved to 12-5 overall and 4-2 in league, with one loss each to Sonoma Academy and Roseland Prep, who battled each other for first place Tuesday night.
Mustangs coach Jim Fagundes said he likes his team’s chances to force a three-way battle for a league title in the second half of the season.
“I feel like the last week or so, we’ve kind of turned a corner,” Fagundes said.
Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.