Boys basketball: Update on the small schools

Roseland Prep's Frankie Valdez grabs a defensive rebound during Tuesday night's game against Rincon Valley Christian. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

Roseland Prep’s Frankie Valdez grabs a defensive rebound during Tuesday night’s game against Rincon Valley Christian. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Teams in the top ranks of Empire small school boys prep basketball head into in the final weeks of the regular season aiming for section playoff runs with others hoping to bolster records in league play.

Willits, Cloverdale, Roseland University Prep, Rincon Valley Christian and Archbishop Hanna have the strongest resumes.

Willits deep and strong

Ruling the small school roost is Willits, which returns four starters and is deeper than last season’s NCL I championship team.

Leading the Wolverines is 2012-13 Empire Small School Player of the Year Jon Montez, who averages a double-double in scoring and rebounding. All-league guard Cole Jessup and Will Betts also score in double figures for Willits, which is outpacing opponents by 16 points a game.

“We’ve actually gotten a lot better coming off that championship,” Willits coach Duane Nelson said. “We rebound the ball very well. Now we’re shooting the ball a lot better than last year.”

With wins against larger schools and against perennial small school powers, Willits seeks a better finish than last year’s first-round North Coast Section defeat. Setting the school record for wins and hosting a section playoff game would help.

Willits currently is ranked seventh in NCS Division 4 with always strong Salesian leading the pack. Nelson said NCL I boys teams have not won a section playoff game in a dozen years.

“This year we’re hoping to be that team,” he said.

NCL I outlook

While the defending champions figure to retain the NCL I title, several teams are playing well in bids for the NCS playoffs.

Cloverdale returns four starters from last season’s section playoff team led by All-Empire standout Isiah Warren. Scoring 20 points a game, Warren also hands out four assists and pulls down seven rebounds per contest. Shane LaPant and John McMillan both average 12 points a game and share the rebounding load.

Another team that is athletic and shoots the ball well is Clear Lake. The Cardinals have returning All-League pick Danny Partida, who leads four players scoring eight or more a game.

Kelseyville is young and improving with five players scoring seven or more points a game. The Knights rebound well.

Middletown is big and strong, relying on rugged defense. The Mustangs fell to Kelseyville and Cloverdale the past two outings.

Knights playing at high level

Undefeated in league play, Roseland University Prep also has a big win against Willits in the St. Helena tournament.

The Knights played a tough nonleague schedule to prepare for another competitive NCL II slate and in moving up to NCS Division 4 as a result of enrollment growth. One of the best Roseland Prep boys’ teams ever will need to continue improving ahead of the section playoffs, where the Knights hope to get a home game.

“Our speed is helping us a lot. We have a couple of kids who can shoot it pretty good,” Roseland Prep coach Luis Escobar said. “But we can get a lot better.”

Returning only one starter in senior Chris Hernandez, the Knights have filled in with top players from last year’s league-winning junior varsity. Pablo Avenado and Francisco Valdez are high-scoring sophomores. Senior Epitacio Hernandez anchors the post play.

With only one player over 6 feet, Roseland Prep still rebounds well as the Knights develop a more physical inside game.

“They play hard,” Escobar said.

NCL II outlook

Play in the NCL II is down some this year with Rincon Valley Christian providing the major test for Roseland Prep.

The defending NCS Division 6 champions from Rincon Valley Christian have balanced scoring led by James Leng and Dale Watkins. The Eagles with strong guard play can run with teams as in past years. This season Rincon Valley Christian has enough size as well as speed to also win with defense.

Another team getting contributions across the lineup is Tomales. The Braves are led by Tyler McFadden, who averages 14 points, eight assists and six rebounds a game. Ivan Gomez adds 15 points and seven rebounds per contest.

Also on the rise is Calistoga. The Wildcats are playing in a new gym.

St. Vincent will need a winning league campaign if the Mustangs hope for a return to the NCS Division 5 playoffs. St. Vincent, Calistoga, Technology and Sonoma Academy all are ranked near the bottom in NCS Division 5.

The others

Rincon Valley Christian is ranked second in NCS Division 6 and on their heels is Archbishop Hanna in the fifth spot.

Playing a strong schedule, Hanna is near the top of the Small School Bridge League. Back to lead the Hawks is Armani Perry, who scores 17 a game. Hanna has good depth with six players averaging six or more points per contest. Jesse Limon and Dakota Weltering give the Hawks some size to match up with the best teams in NCS Division 6.

“We’re definitely getting there. The potential is to be better than last year,” Hanna coach Courtney Jackson said.

While the Hawks shoot well and can run up scores as well as any opponent, Hanna needs to work plays inside more for better scoring balance and to draw fouls.

Rio Lindo Adventist and Summerfield Waldorf are also contending in the Small School Bridge League and seek a return to the NCS Division 6 playoffs. Rio Lindo Adventist has back All-League player Jordan Lewis and goes 10 deep in its rotation. Summerfield Waldorf is led by All-League player Cameron Nielsen.

Point Arena could be the favorite in the NCL III where the top teams from last year — Laytonville and Mendocino — lost a lot of players to graduation. All-Empire pick Justin Sundstrom leads Point Arena.

Also aiming for another playoff appearance is Anderson Valley if the Panthers can finish near the top of the NCL III.

Michael Coit can be reached at Mike.Coit@pressdemocrat.com.

 

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