THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Standing outside the Montgomery locker room Friday night, Rylan Kobre became a touchstone for his teammates. As they filed out behind him, one by one they paid the appropriate homage to the kid who just sank the winning basket with 10.2 seconds left in a North Coast Section quarterfinal game. They patted him on the shoulders. They patted him on the head. One player kissed his noggin. Another gave Kobre a modification of the bro-hug.
If he asked for a golden chariot to carry him from the building, it could have been arranged. This kind of adoration happens with the game in the balance, a game in which only the foolish would predict that a junior who hasn’t started the past 25 games for Montgomery would sink the winner. And it wasn’t a chippie, either. A very legit 3-pointer from the corner. Nothing but net. Just like in his dreams.
“It felt good coming off my hand,” Kobre said of the shot. “I knew it was going on.”
It was assumed this had to be the biggest shot of Kobre’s young career but, no, he had a contender for that honor.
“In the eighth grade, when I was playing for St. Eugene’s in a CYO league,” Kobre said, “I hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win it. That was pretty good.”
Kobre pondered that memory for a moment and maybe it was the second pat on his head from a teammate that broke the tie. Yes, he said finally, this was the biggest shot, especially considering the circumstances.
And what circumstances they were. Montgomery had a 16-0 lead after the first quarter against College Park of Pleasant Hill, as College Park missed all eight of its field-goal attempts. The teams played an even second quarter. But in the third quarter Montgomery missed all nine of its field-goal attempts, turned over the ball four times and was outscored 19-5 in the quarter.
College Park took the lead and looked ready to run the Vikings out of the gym. With 4:43 left in the game, with College Park up 51-45, Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie called a time-out and gave his team one of those frank assessments that only makes dramatic sense when a season is on the line.
They are running us over, is what Fitchie basically said.
“Our whole season was represented in this game,” Fitchie said. “Well, almost everything. We never started a game with a 16-0 run. Thing is, with my team, sometimes they don’t play with a sense of urgency. They finally figured out College Park was running the ball down their throat. And they finally held themselves accountable for that.”
Momentum is a tricky thing in sports. You can’t tell when it starts but you can tell when it’s in full throttle. And College Park was on the throttle.
When asked if he thought the game was almost over when College Park made that 11-0 run midway in the third quarter, Kobre nodded.
“I did have that feeling in the back of my mind,” Kobre said, “but I also knew we could get it done.”
Confident in being aggressive was what saved Montgomery Friday night. Basketball is a contact sport and, as Fitchie said of his players, “it took them about a quarter and half” to figure out how to reclaim the confidence and the aggression College Park had so blatantly taken from the Vikings. Fitchie said he wasn’t sure when the tipping point occurred — although his speech would be a good place to start — but the momentum was a freight train at the end of the game.
Montgomery scored the last nine points and it was Kobre who had the ball in his hands at the end.
“A month ago,” Fitchie said, “Rylan wouldn’t have been in there. I don’t think he was ready then. But he was ready tonight. That’s why I started him. Rylan is very grounded. When he was coming off the bench, especially after starting last year, Rylan never complained. He was always there for the team.”
As Kobre said: “If there were towels to pick up or Gatorade to get, I did it because I was part of the team.”
It was that kind of maturity that put Kobre in the game, and he was the guy who sent Montgomery into the NCS D2 semifinals next Wednesday. Fitchie believes it will be against No. 1 seed Newark Memorial, which plays Las Lomas today.
“All I want to do is beat Newark,” he said, “but I don’t know if we’ll be given much of a chance.”
“If you asked me at the end of the first quarter,” I said, “I would have said definitely yes. But if you asked me at the end of the third quarter, I would have said no.”
Fitchie smiled. His team has already clinched a spot in the NorCal playoffs. He wants to win NCS because that will guarantee a higher seed in NorCals. Ever the optimist, Fitchie can see it happening. Why? His Vikings shut out a team with a 23-4 record in the first quarter Friday night. You just don’t do that with smoke and mirrors. And coming back after getting bludgeoned 19-5 in the third quarter, you don’t do that with smoke and mirrors either.
That’ll be a nice challenge for Tom Fitchie in the next couple days, convincing the Vikings that only the third quarter Friday night was the aberration.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.