PADECKY: Victory a testament to Eagles’ maturity, resilience


By CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat Rincon Valley Christian's James Leng celebrates after his team defeated Ferndale during the NCS Division 6 boys basketball championship Saturday at Rincon Valley Christian.

By CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat
Rincon Valley Christian’s James Leng celebrates after his team defeated Ferndale during the NCS Division 6 boys basketball championship Saturday at Rincon Valley Christian.

With 20 seconds left in the game Saturday night, the NCS Division 6 championship more than secured, Rincon Valley Christian’s Garrett Robert had the ball just past mid-court. Robert had stopped moving. He was standing right in front of the RVC student section. He looked at them for a response and they gave it to him. In unison they chanted down the seconds: “20! 19! 18! … ” Robert pounded the ball emphatically to each second, all the while facing the screaming crowd and smiling. The grin swallowed his whole face, is what it did.

“That was the greatest moment of my life,” Robert said later. “My only worry was wondering if I was going to get tackled by the students once the buzzer went off.”

It was only a worry. Robert wasn’t tackled. He was hugged at the buzzer, surrounded so tightly this had to be what it’s like for Justin Bieber going through a crowd. The moment, the exhilaration, the living up to all the expectations, it came together nicely, convincingly, permanently. RVC is the D6 champion and no one can say the team got lucky doing it. The Eagles took Ferndale apart, 52-28, validating its No. 1 seed but even more than that, performing with grace under fire.

That would be keeping their cool when Ferndale came at them with shoves and slaps and hip checks and arm thumping that sent RVC players crashing to the ground at least four times. Robert and James Leng both stayed on the floor for a while, composing themselves and then keeping their composure. Afterward RVC coach Darren Nelson was direct in his opinion of such behavior.

“I would never permit it on my team,” Nelson said.

It was an added measure of satisfaction for RVC. Beyond lifting their record to 28-4, beyond making the last two NCS D6 finals a distant memory (both losses to Ferndale), RVC continued to play basketball while Ferndale had moments in which it forgot its football season was over.

“They were losing the game in their head,” Leng said, “while we were winning the game on the scoreboard.”

Winning the game, Leng was being charitable in using those words. RVC had a 40-16 lead at the end of the third quarter, a 45-18 lead three minutes into the fourth quarter. When Robert just stood there with 20 seconds left in the game, he was being charitable as well. The statement had long been made. In fact, Leng said the statement was made in the first quarter, when RVC held a modest 12-6 lead.

That’s when Leng felt the Eagles had the game under control.

“We were shredding their zone defense,” Leng said. “We got into their heads right there.”

Ferndale, Nelson said, had made it this far in the NCS playoffs because of that tough 2-3 zone defense. It was their default option among all others. The Wildcats, 14-12 on the season, might shoot poorly — they hit only 26.1 percent of their shots (11 of 42). The Wildcats might turn the ball over — they had 27 turnovers in the game. The Wildcats might even look like football players playing basketball. But they could always count on that zone defense as being impenetrable.

“I think that rattled them, the way we destroyed their zone,” Nelson said.

“I don’t think they saw anybody do that to them all year and that surprised them.”

What had to make Ferndale even more than a bit surprised was this — RVC was in control of the game throughout even though the Wildcats committed 20 turnovers. Not many basketball games will be played in which the clearly dominant team turns the ball over 20 times and still wins by 24 points.

“We made some dumb turnovers,” Nelson said. “We tried passing the ball at times when the pass wasn’t there. Or we weren’t as patient as we could have been with our shooting.”

Part of that can be explained simply as this — RVC was the prevailing D6 team in the North Coast Section this year.

“We had a target on our back ever since we beat Ukiah,” Leng said.

RVC wasn’t going to sneak up on anybody, not with that record and four starters 6-feet-2 or taller. RVC became caught up at times in feeling the weight of an NCS championship in the offing. Just play your game, they knew and they were told, and it will all come true. The Eagles did that often and enough that they should never second guess overextending themselves and overreacting to the moment.

When you shoot 46.3 percent from the floor (19 of 41) and control the game from the outset, youthful exuberance is almost hardly worth mentioning.

“We have been building for this moment for the last two years,” Robert said. “What a relief.”

With no state championship for Division 6 — at least not right now anyway, although there have been discussions — RVC’s season ended Saturday night with as big and bold a statement as possible. Four players finished in double figures: Cavin Hawkins and Paul Meihaus had 15 each and Leng and Robert had 10 each.

For nearly everyone on the team, the moment was almost too great to assemble it well with words.

“It was more than I imagined,” Nelson said of the euphoria he was feeling. “It’s hard to pick the words.”

How about these words: resounding, resilient, resolute. And how about these: mature, respectful, unflappable. Mostly, especially, how about these: The mountain is theirs because they are on the top of it.

“I think this is just starting for me,” Nelson said.

What’s that?

“The celebration,” he said.

For how long?

“All night,” Nelson said. “And then I’ll go right to church.”

When’s that?

“8:45 in the morning,” Nelson said.

And the coach didn’t flinch even a little when he said it. Winning an NCS title is a premium Red Bull rush.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or

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