By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Athletic, fast, and sharp shooters — both Rincon Valley Christian and Laytonville fit the bill — and showed as much in a fast paced section playoff Wednesday.
Rincon Valley Christian made a halftime lead stand up, holding off a pair of Laytonville runs for the 64-56 win. The Eagles earned a third straight North Coast Section Division 6 title shot.
This contest will be at home after falling on the road in the past two finals.
“We’ve been playing for that, the ultimate goal,” said Paul Meihaus, playing one of his best games with 18 points for the Eagles. “We had to earn every point for sure. That definitely gets us ready for the championship.”
Playing an active zone defense, Laytonville kept the game close until the Warriors shooters could get going in the Eagles gym.
Laytonville pulled within a basket early in the final period and made Rincon Valley Christian work to the buzzer.
“We played smarter. We played with more energy,” said Dylan Rosenthal, who topped the Warriors with 16 on the night.
“We haven’t played anyone like that on defense all year. We adapted pretty well.”
Despite similar playing styles, plenty of differences distinguished the teams.
Rincon Valley Christian is taller and longer yet wants to push and score in transition.
While giving up some size, Laytonville is athletic around the basket and likes to shoot 3-pointers.
Another contrast is in the programs’ history. The Eagles have a section championship and are a perennial Empire small school power, gaining the playoff top seed this season.
“We’re definitely pleased with the success we’ve had,” said Rincon Valley Christian coach Darren Nelson.
Winning the school’s first league title in 22 years, Laytonville rode a 13-game winning streak into Wednesday’s game.
But the Warriors have never won a section playoff game.
“We had a phenomenal year. The boys are just hungry, they’re wanting it,” said Laytonville coach Corey James.
Both teams clearly wanted to take control early in the game. But active defenses with players helping on stops across the floor made for a ragged pace. The first basket came some three minutes into the game.
Breaking a sweat and shaking off nerves, the teams were sharper with passes and shots in the second quarter. Rincon Valley Christian was hotter, ending on a 12-2 run including a trio of 3-pointers. Sharp shooter Cavin Hawkins hit for half of his 16 in the period.
“We were surprised by their defensive pressure,” Meihaus said. “We relaxed, focused, made smart passes.”
Playing zone to force rushed passes and deep shots, Laytonville mostly grounded the Eagles. A quick transition defense limited fast breaks.
What the Warriors needed was an offensive spark. With five players scoring in the third period, led by Corey James Jr. with 8, Laytonville stayed within reach entering the final period.
“We just created lanes. We did a better job of taking shots when they were there, not settling too much,” Rosenthal said.
The game was just getting going.
Opening on an 8-0 run fueled by Brandon Sutherland’s drives to the basket, Laytonville pulled within a basket. Rincon Valley Christian didn’t score on their first five possessions in the fourth quarter.
Challenged by their coach during a timeout in the midst of an evaporating lead, the Eagles scored on a difficult reverse by James Leng low and a Meihaus 3-pointer to stay on top.
Steady free throw shooting in the final two minutes kept the Eagles ahead.
“That timeout definitely helped us restart and refocus,” Meihaus said.