By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
NEWARK – With 54.6 seconds left in the third quarter Wednesday night and the game lacking any meaningful suspense by that time, Montgomery’s Alec Raven let his emotions show. Newark Memorial’s Damien Banford, all 6-foot-6, 270 pounds of him, had done a masterful job of keeping the Vikings’ best player a non-factor. The Montgomery people would claim that was because Banford did everything to Raven except put him in a head-lock. The Newark people would say it was just good, physical defense.
Whatever the viewpoint, Raven had enough of the contact. As the ball was contested between them, Raven swung wildly, his arm going off to the side. It was a hard slapping motion actually, looked maybe even like a swipe. Contact wasn’t the intent of it. Frustration release was. Raven didn’t make contact with Banford. And no foul was called. But that act of frustration, quite rare for Raven, was shared by his teammates and his coaches. If anything, it probably felt like a cathartic release for everyone from Montgomery to see Raven’s arm fly through the air.
I’m tired of being ridden like a horse, was the message behind it. Get away from me. Get off my back.
“No matter what the situation,” Raven said, “you should always keep your composure.”
Newark Memorial Wednesday night got into Montgomery’s head, shoulders, arms, hands, legs, anything that wore a red uniform and came away with a 54-26 victory in an NCS D2 semifinal that in style at least was not a thing of beauty. More like a thing you would see in wrestling.
It’s not that Montgomery tucked its head and ran away. The Vikings pushed back but the Cougars didn’t budge. Newark Memorial was bigger and stronger.
“And faster and quicker,” said Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie. “That’s probably the best team we’ve faced all year. They are very athletic. And they made sure that whatever they were going to do tonight, they weren’t going to let Alec beat them.”
Every team Montgomery faced this year had the same notion Newark Memorial had. The difference is:
The players the Cougars were able to put on Raven, 6-foot-5, were stronger and more stout. Banford carried about 80 more pounds than Raven. More than any other sport, basketball is a game of match-ups and this match-up was decidedly Newark Memorial’s to exploit.
Oh, and one other difference from Sonoma County basketball: The officials let the players play and they let them get rough and physical. They weren’t afraid to call a foul but strong body contact, like a forceful hand-check, it was permitted.“I think they just got tired of calling fouls,” Fitchie said.
So the bigger and stronger Cougars took the game over. By the second quarter, in all honesty, it was over. The Vikings would do their share of shoving but nothing moved when they did it. It was a one-point game at the end of the first quarter, 11-10, Montgomery, but almost as noticeable as high tide coming up the beach, Newark Memorial took over the game with physical aggression that the Vikings could not match.
Fitchie was apoplectic at the offcials letting it happen. When he called a timeout with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter, Fitchie had his own moment of Alec Raven-frustration. He had had enough. “It’s a travesty!” Fitchie shouted at the officials.
After the game Fitchie revealed himself to be old school in the truest sense of the word.
“Basketball to me is a beautiful game because it can be so artistic,” Fitchie said.
The well-run, seamless, smooth, flowing play, a drive to the basket that is poetry, a fast-break that has its own electric energy to it, that’s the game Fitchie grew up with, coached and made him stay around for so long.
“I don’t see any of that anymore,” Fitchie said. “It’s a shame.”
Now Fitchie sees holding and grabbing and body-checking like it’s hockey. And he knew when he was coming to the East Bay Wednesday night, Fitchie was going to see a lot of that.
But, still, wasn’t he surprised at how rough the game was?
“To that level, yes,” he said.
Make no mistake. Not for a second is Fitchie making an excuse. He knew, and he told his team, Newark Memorial might leave a bruise. Be prepared.
“They are a better team,” said Fitchie without qualification.
And there is NorCals next week. Monty’s season is not over. And Fitchie is convinced this game will not be a momentum-buster for his Vikings.
“Because if it is,” he said, “then I’m not doing my job (in getting them prepared).”
The first thing Fitchie needs to do is let the bodies heal. He could start with his best player.
“I’m sore,” said Alec Ravenwho scored only six points
“I feel sore,” Raven said.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.