By PETER FOURNIER
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
NEWARK — The No. 4-seeded Montgomery High boys basketball team started its NCS Division II semifinal with top-seeded Newark Memorial on good notes. The Vikings either led or tied the Cougars for the entire first quarter.
Right before the buzzer sounded to end the quarter, however, Newark’s Joey Frenchwood sunk a 3 to cut the lead to one. Moments into the second quarter, Frenchwood hit another 3 to put the Cougars on top, 13-11.
Montgomery wouldn’t lead again after that, as Newark’s dominant physical post presence and outside shooting left the Vikings short of an NCS finals berth with a 54-26 defeat that lasted just one hour and 17 minutes.
The Vikings scored only 15 points in the final three quarters — five in the second, three in the third and seven in the fourth.
Why the low totals? The Cougars’ brand of basketball was obvious: a full-court, no-nonsense, in-your-face defense that Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie said his team couldn’t answer to.
“We can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have those kind of players. We’re not strong enough to do it and we’re not quick enough to do it. They got all those assets to be able to do it and if they aren’t going to call (fouls), you can be really good at it.”
In a span of four minutes, a one-point Vikings lead turned into an eight-point deficit, thanks in part to Frenchwood’s 3s and two more 3-point field goals from Jose Zamora, who led the Cougars with 17. Frenchwood finished with 13.
“What separates them is they can shoot the ball,” Fitchie said. “They got some shooters. They made enough 3-pointers. I don’t know how many, but quite a few.”
The Vikings trailed by 12 at the half, and 17 after three despite holding Newark to eight points in the third.
Alec Raven and Kiel Long led Montgomery with six points each and Tyler Newman had four.
“They were really big, physical and that’s how they played,” Raven said. “We tried to fight back but sometimes you got to give it up. They played really well.”
Raven said Newark was a bit different from other teams they’ve faced this year.
“It’s a lot different from our section,” he said. “They’re a very good team. They were just huge. You could tell. There’s the weight difference, the height difference.”
It’s a game that Raven said will be a motivator going forward.
“This is one of the games you have to keep in your head for next year … just remember how this feels and come back and work hard in the offseason,” Raven said.
Fitchie couldn’t recall facing a better team this season.
“I don’t think we’ve played anybody better in 30 games,” he said. “I’ll give them that.”
Montgomery blew out Washington in the first round and was edged by College Park 56-54 last Friday in the quarterfinals. Newark had beaten both of their prior two opponents by 15 points.
The Cougars will play Dublin for the NCS D2 section title this Friday at Fremont’s Washington High School. Montgomery will play in the NorCal Division 2 championships that start next Wednesday.