By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It was a banner evening for the Montgomery basketball program on Friday night, and the Vikings’ girls team capped off the night in victorious fashion.
The third-seeded Vikings defeated visiting sixth seed Newark Memorial 53-46 in the second round of the North Coast Section Division 2 basketball playoffs. Montgomery has won 12 of its past 13 games, including winning the recent North Bay League postseason tournament.
“I think our girls did an excellent job of playing as a team again tonight,” Montgomery (24-6) coach Steve Bell said. “Newark (20-8) had an opportunity to make a run and they did that, but we were able to hold on for the win.”
In a Vikings home double-header, the girls’ victory came a few hours after the Vikings boys’ squad defeated College Park 56-54 in dramatic fashion, resulting in both Montgomery hoops teams moving on to the NCS semifinals next week.
The Montgomery girls travel to play at second seed Clayton Valley on Wednesday.
“We match up OK with Clayton Valley. They play a little 2-3 defensive zone and run motion low on offense,” Bell said. “I always like our chances.”
The Friday win for the Vikings also ensures a spot in the upcoming NorCal half of the California Interscholastic Federation state playoffs.
“I’m stoked about qualifying for the NorCal (tournament),” Bell said.
The game was a physical affair as Newark Memorial played a bruising style of ball with lots of hand-checking and body-bumping. The referees allowed a lot of contact for the most part.
“It was a physical game,” Montgomery’s star center Claire Donnelly said. “But we have gotten used to physical games throughout the season playing in the NBL.”
Donnelly was a stalwart in the middle, scoring 15 points, hauling down 21 rebounds and swatting six Cougars shots.
“Claire is a difference-maker out there,” Bell said. “On the boards she did a quality job. She was taking the pounding and fighting through it.”
Montgomery was led in scoring by Ashlee Wilson with 16 points.
Newark Memorial basically had only two players who could score — Taylor Norman, who led all scorers with 25 points, and Ni’yesha Brown with 13 points.
“We needed more (scoring) contributions from others,” Newark Memorial coach Darryl Reina said. “But give Montgomery credit, they aren’t the third seed for nothing.”
Montgomery came out and played stifling defense to lead 10-2 at the end of the first quarter.
“We had a very slow start offensively,” Reina said. “We dug ourselves a hole.”
Montgomery led 25-6 with 3:30 to play in the first half, but Newark Memorial clawed back, trailing 28-17 at halftime. The Cougars capped a 21-9 run over a seven-minute span to trail just 30-25 with 5:26 to play in the third quarter. Montgomery went back up by 12 points late in the third, but Newark Memorial closed the gap to 44-39 with 3:23 to play.
The Cougars could not get any closer, however, and ended up losing by seven points.
“We were having some scoring spurts but we needed defensive stops,” Reina said. “Montgomery answered every scoring spurt we had.”
The Vikings finished with a 36-28 rebounding edge. The Cougars were 13 of 20 from the free-throw line while Montgomery was 18 of 28. The Vikings missed a few too many free throws down the stretch for comfort, but it didn’t hurt them in the end.
“We were pressing ourselves a little bit. It got a little harried at the end,” Bell said. “But we made enough of them (free throws), and there were a lot of big shots that we hit.”