By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Needing nearly the entire first quarter to take a lead, Montgomery beat Maria Carrillo inside and with tough defense to pull away for the North Bay League title Wednesday.
Montgomery got going with rebounds following scores and 3-pointers, matching urgency on offense with tight coverage across the floor. Montgomery forged a double-digit advantage which the Vikings maintained much of the second half for a 65-55 win.
Balanced scoring has been Montgomery’s strength, as it was against Carrillo. Sam Averbuck led four Vikings in double figures with 17 on the night.
“That’s a testament to how much we’ve grown as a team,” said the senior, a sharpshooter who now is getting to the basket more. “I want to create more shots for me and my team. So far it’s working.”
Defense is driving Maria Carrillo’s turnaround this season. But the Pumas did not have enough answers for Montgomery’s spacing, patient passing and second-chance scoring.
“We wanted to win league. We need to play better defense going into the playoffs,” said Jake Viter, who led the Pumas with 20 points Wednesday.
With the win, Montgomery gains the top seed for the NBL tournament next week. Montgomery is positioned to receive the No. 1 seed in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs.
Maria Carrillo also makes the league tournament — the top four teams in the final league standings advance. But the loss Wednesday could have cost the Pumas a home game.
Coming off a tough win at second place Cardinal Newman, the Vikings needed to stay sharp on seniors’ night.
Yet it was the Pumas who started strong and led much of the first quarter.
A 3-pointer from Noah Orlik, who had 14 in the game, put Montgomery up for good. Montgomery would build a 10-point lead with five players scoring in the second period, led by Rylan Kobre.
But the Vikings could not shake the Pumas in the second quarter. After yielding the momentum and lead, Carrillo bounced back to close within a pair of scores at halftime.
The Pumas pushed the pace and kept Montgomery’s defense on its heels. Providing the spark were speedy guards Clayton Andrews and Dominic Garcia.
The deciding stretch came in a third quarter run with Montgomery sharing the ball well to build a commanding lead. A pair of old fashioned three-point plays highlighted the Vikings ability to beat the Pumas to the basket.
Notable on the night was the defensive effort to limit the league’s premier big men. Montgomery’s Alec Raven scored 11 points, all on rebound putbacks or free throws. Maria Carrillo’s A.J. John scored 9, all in the second half.
While the Vikings captured the league title, they want to finish strong against Casa Grande in their league finale. The Gauchos handed the Vikings their only NBL defeat.“That reminded us we have to bring it every night,” Averbuck said.
“We owe them one.”