By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Down eight points with six minutes remaining, Montgomery rallied to defeat visiting Ukiah, 68-59, in an opening round game of the NBL Tournament Wednesday night.
The victory puts the Vikings into Friday’s championship game where they’ll get another shot at Cardinal Newman. The Cardinals advanced with a 64-45 win over Casa Grande. The teams will meet at Santa Rosa JC, the same court where Newman took two narrow league decisions.
For a while in the fourth quarter, it didn’t look like the Vikings would make it to the title game.
When Paul Steliga drained a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, Ukiah led 54-46.
Montgomery needed someone to step up and guard Rylan Kobre answered the call.
After a Tyler Newman basket narrowed the gap to six, Kobre scored eight points in less than two minutes.
The junior’s last two baskets were from 3-point land and gave his team a 56-55 advantage.
Ukiah would lead once more at 57-56, but it was apparent momentum had shifted as the Vikings promptly scored nine straight to secure the victory.
“No doubt about it, Kobre’s two 3s were huge,” winning coach Tom Fitchie said. “Those shots were timely and gave us a lift.”
Kobre, whose older brother Alec starred at Montgomery and now plays for Santa Rosa JC, knew what role he wanted to play when he came off the bench in the fourth quarter.
“I felt the team needed a spark when Ukiah took the lead on us,” he said. “I wanted to take the shots if I was open.”
Give the Wildcats credit, they looked like a beaten team in the second quarter. At one point in the period, Montgomery scored 16 consecutive points. Ukiah helped out by committing eight turnovers in the period.
A four-point Ukiah lead after one quarter had turned into a 35-19 deficit just before halftime.
The visitors fought back after the break and took the lead, 42-41, on Frankie Garcia’s 3-pointer. The Wildcats maintained the lead until Kobre drained his second trey with 3:15 remaining.
While disappointed, Ukiah coach Bill Heath saw plenty of reasons to be encouraged.
“That’s as good as we can play,” he said. “Montgomery is faster, more athletic and shoots better than we do.
“When we got down double digits in the second quarter, the kids didn’t quit. That says something about them.”
Ukiah lost twice to Montgomery during league. The first game wound up 55-31 and the score of the second was 59-38.
Steliga led the Wildcats with 19 points. Garcia scored 15 and Adrian Mata added 14. Mata scored nine in the third quarter.
Nine players scored for Montgomery with Alec Raven leading the way with 19 (14 in the first half). Kobre and Newman had 10 apiece.
Montgomery, now 8-0 on its home court, will take a 21-6 record into Friday’s title game. Ukiah is 17-10. Both teams figure to get invitations to North Coast Section playoffs.