NCS boys basketball: Willits wins first-ever playoff game

By PETER FOURNIER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Willits High boys basketball team was just one seeding spot away from having a guaranteed home playoff game this season. The Wolverines are the No. 9 seed in the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs and Roseland University Prep the No. 8.

It turns out the No. 9 seed just meant that Willits made history on the road.

The Wolverines won their first NCS playoff game in school history on Wednesday night, 52-31, over the eighth-seeded Knights.

Wolverines coach Duane Nelson said a playoff win has been the goal since their open gym sessions last spring.

“The goal from the first day was to win a playoff game,” he said. “They achieved their goal and it’s great to be a part of it.

“We’re playing on house money now.”

Roseland defeated Willits at a tournament in St. Helena earlier, but the Wolverines played without Will Betts, a 5-foot-10 guard whose intensity pushes the team, according to Nelson.

“He’s our energy,” Nelson said. “Great player. He’s everywhere. That kind of kid.”

Betts was big in Willits’ hot first quarter, when the Wolverines sprinted to a 21-8 lead after one quarter, thanks to a pair of Betts 3-pointers which helped turn a two-point lead into a 13-point advantage heading into the second quarter.

“We just feed off that kid,” Nelson said. “He just makes us go. He’s our engine. So without that energy, again, they (Roseland) played a great game against us in St. Helena, I don’t want to take that away from them, they beat us there no doubt, but it was our turn tonight.”

Betts said he felt the energy from the moment he stepped on to the court to prepare for the game.

“I was really pumped when we first came out in warm-ups,” he said. “I was running around, jumping everywhere. It’s like when you come out with that focus and high energy, it just changes the whole game. The other team, they would feel more intimidated by that, kind of. I think that makes a big difference.”

Willits followed up its productive offensive spurt in the first quarter with a strong defensive effort in the second. Roseland scored only once, a basket by Epi Hernandez with 1:32 left until halftime.

“I think they were more on attack mode, and we played on our heels,” Roseland coach Luis Escobar said. “And I just think they were the more confident, better prepared team tonight.”

Roseland showed life in the second half, but the Wolverines dominant first half was too much to overcome.

“It was hard to get into any type of full court pressure when we’re not scoring,” Escobar said. “So if we don’t score and they transition, we can’t pressure think we made a couple of baskets in the second half, and that let us set up some pressure, which we looked a lot better in the pressure than in a half court man-to-man.”

Betts finished with 10 points, Jon Montez led the Wolverines with 24 points and Cole Jessup finished with 10.

This was Roseland’s first year playing in the Division 4 playoff bracket. Escobar said he recognized the size and speed difference in the jump from Division 5.

Escobar remembers beating Willits. “We didn’t get their best shot (then),” Escobar said. “That (Wednesday), was their best shot.”

Willits will play at Moreau Catholic — who defeated Gateway 94-41 Wednesday — on Saturday. “We’ll give them a game, anyway,” Nelson said. “They’re talented, very talented.

“This team we’re about to play is very long and athletic and quick. We haven’t seen that, let’s just say that. We haven’t seen that this year.”

 

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