CIF basketball: Empire teams try to punch ticket to semifinals

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Montgomery's Alec Raven, right, is fouled on a drive to the basket by Redwood's Molefi Thompson during Friday's second-round NCS playoff game. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Montgomery’s Alec Raven, right, is fouled on a drive to the basket by Redwood’s Molefi Thompson during Friday’s second-round NCS playoff game. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

The season to survive and advance continues today with four Empire prep basketball teams still alive in the state playoffs.

Both the Montgomery boys and St. Vincent girls go on the road after opening-round home wins. The Santa Rosa and Cardinal Newman girls look to stay strong away from home after shutting down opponents in hostile gyms.

Each team is playing a quarterfinal contest in the Northern California half of the California Interscholastic Federation Basketball Championships. Game times are 6 p.m.

BOYS DIVISION 2: Montgomery (26-6) at Serra (21-8)

Both programs have a deep NorCal playoff history, with the Vikings winning a 1998 championship and Serra taking a 2005 title.

Montgomery’s win over Del Oro ended a five-game skid in NorCal openers during the past eight years. Serra, earning a first-round bye based on an impressive season, plays in a fifth straight NorCal playoffs.

Expect a defensive contest. Both teams are tough, fundamentally sound and play hard. With the ball, patience is the key as both can beat opponents inside and outside.

Montgomery needs to keep North Bay League player of the year Alec Raven in the game. Del Oro made a comeback with Raven on the bench with four fouls. Sam Averbuck and Rylan Kobre are deep scoring threats, and Kiel Long has an impact across the floor. Leading the Padres attack are guards Danny Mahoney and Sean Watkins, with Jake Killingsworth anchoring the post.

Rebounding could be the difference. Serra is the taller, longer squad, giving the Padres an edge on defense and in second-chance scores.

Staying close deep into the game is Montgomery’s goal. Serra is a heavy favorite coming out of the rugged West Catholic Athletic League, which sent six teams to this year’s NorCal playoffs.

GIRLS DIVISION 1: Santa Rosa (28-4) at Deer Valley (23-5)

Santa Rosa seeks a more memorable return to the East Bay, taking on top-rated Deer Valley, in Antioch.

A week ago, Santa Rosa fell to Berkeley in the North Coast Section playoffs. Then the Panthers kept their season going with a decisive win at North Salinas in the NorCals.

Not that Deer Valley needed that 23-point Santa Rosa win to convince the Wolverines how good the Panthers can play. Santa Rosa edged Deer Valley in the West Coast Jamboree tournament. The Wolverines’ only loss since that December contest was to perennial powerhouse Carondelet.

Healthy again, Santa Rosa is coming off one of the Panthers’ best games. Katie Daly is the spark — 7 assists a game — Santa Rosa needs across the floor against the athletic Wolverines. Morgan Bertsch will have to work hard to match her season averages of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Kylie Oden has provided a big boost with 11 points and playing every game.

Deer Valley has more than enough size to match Santa Rosa with four of the top scorers 5-9 or taller. Maranne Johnson, at one forward, paces Deer Valley with 15 points and 7 rebounds a game. Center Brandy Williams pulls down 12 rebounds to go with 8 points per contest. Running the attack is Sierra Dixon, averaging a dozen points.

Defense and protecting the ball could prove the difference as both teams like to push and roll up points.

In NorCal play, Santa Rosa last appeared in 2011. Deer Valley is making its fifth trip in seven years.

GIRLS DIVISION 4: Cardinal Newman (24-7) at Scotts Valley (24-5)

The matchup is a contrast in styles. Scotts Valley is a scoring machine, averaging 75 points. Cardinal Newman wants to keep games around 50.

To grab a win in their trip into the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Cardinals need to match their gritty effort in pulling away for the first-round win at Menlo.

Playing beyond their years, the Cardinals are led by junior playmaker Kylie Kiech. Cardinal Newman’s post play has improved as a pair of young stalwarts has gained confidence, freshman Hailey Vice-Neat and sophomore Tiffany Salinas.

Scotts Valley will be tough to stop on its home floor. The Falcons truly fly with seven players scoring 5 or more a game. Athletic and with size to spare, Scotts Valley’s top scorers also are the team’s leading rebounders. Nadene Hart averages 16 points and 8 rebounds, Angela Silver puts up 14 and 5, and Charlie Boyle adds 11 points and 7 rebounds a game.

Coming out of the deep, competitive North Bay League has prepared Cardinal Newman for the rigors of postseason play. The Cardinals look to stay strong against the Falcons out of the Central Coast Section.

GIRLS DIVISION 5: St. Vincent (26-7) at Eastside College Prep (19-10)

St. Vincent takes on California prep basketball royalty when the Mustangs go to Eastside College Prep.

The hosts from East Palo Alto are in the NorCals for the sixth time in the past decade. Eastside reached the regional finals the past two seasons. St. Vincent’s girls are making the program’s first NorCal appearance.

Still, the Mustangs have the experience and depth to play with any opponent this season. Returning five starters, St. Vincent is best attacking the basket and deploying a pressing defense featuring enough traps to make teams uncomfortable.

Different players step up each game to lead St. Vincent. Leading the first-round win over Ripon Christian were forward Ellie O’Neill and guard Rebecca Dodele, both seniors, and sophomore center Olivia DeGraca, a rebounding and defensive presence.

While the Panthers are fourth and the Mustangs fifth in the 14-team Division 5 field, the visitors face a big challenge.

Small in number, suiting up just seven, Eastside College Prep is athletic and unselfish. The Panthers have balance. Post anchors Destiny Graham and Alexus Simon combine for 26 points a game. Sharpshooters Brije Byers and Chacitty Cunningham add nearly 17 per contest.

St. Vincent wants to keep riding a wave of success in this milestone season. The senior-laden Mustangs have the experience — six seniors have played varsity four seasons — and momentum needed to make a run against Northern California’s best teams.

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