By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Championship basketball teams win whatever the style of play, as Rincon Valley Christian showed in grinding and then giving for the North Coast Section Division 6 boys championship on Saturday.
Playing smart and loose against a physical Ferndale team, Rincon Valley Christian took what the Wildcats allowed. Answering title-game losses the past two seasons at Ferndale, the Eagles took an early lead and dominated on both ends of the home floor for a 52-28 win.
“Our only goal was to get to this game and win this game. It was awesome,” said Garrett Robert, one of the senior catalysts on the Eagles this season.
Winners of the past three NCS Division 6 championships, the Wildcats recognized taking this contest would be a challenge. While the Wildcats slowed the pace to their liking much of the game, Ferndale lacked the shooting touch and long limbs to stay with the hosts.
“There was kind of pressure being the fourth year in a row,” said Ferndale leading scorer Hunter Van Emmerik.
“We never calmed down,” Van Emmerik added. “We just kept turning the ball over.”
To win Rincon Valley Christian’s first NCS title since 1998, the Eagles relied on a starting unit that overcame two years of disappointment to put another trophy in the school’s awards case.
With four players scoring in double figures, Rincon Valley Christian was strong high and low, an athletic squad that played with passion.
Defense was the trigger in this game. Rincon Valley Christian jumped passing lanes and denied entry attempts, often streaking to fast breaks.
“We’re always preaching every time we get a stop, we’re that much closer to winning,” Rincon Valley Christian coach Darren Nelson said.
Fast-breaking, high-scoring Rincon Valley Christian was a tough match-up for Ferndale. Yet the Wildcats are accustomed to taking teams out of their comfort zone with football-first players attacking in zone defense.
“We’re aggressive with it. If you run an effective zone, you have to work your butt off,” said Ferndale coach Seve Coppini.
Using a two-three zone, the Wildcats wanted to force the Eagles to shoot over their defenders. Paul Meihaus did just that in the first half, stroking three of his four deep shots on the night with 15 in the contest.
Changing point guards, yet still slowing the pace, Ferndale again generated precious little offense going into halftime.
Even as the Wildcats scored as many points in the third quarter as the first half, the Eagles were soaring, with four different players putting in baskets in a decisive third period. A reverse layup by James Leng was the signature shot.
“We have so many skilled players on our team. We can pretty much put the ball in anyone’s hands,” Robert said.
To defeat the returning champions demanded a determined effort. That both teams reached the finals required surviving the deepest Division 6 field yet.
“Our kids are usually peaking at the right time. But it’s getting deeper and deeper. That makes for exciting playoff basketball,” Coppini said.
The best of the bunch this season is Rincon Valley Christian.
“We kind of just came out loose and confident,” Robert said.
“It’s kind of like we were working three years for this.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.