Monty boys fall at Serra

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SAN MATEO — Montgomery was the red storm pushing past Serra for much of a CIF NorCal playoff quarterfinal before the hosts dug in for a comeback win.

Coming off a first-round victory that ended a decade-long drought at state, Montgomery was a step quicker and sharper with the ball in leading until a minute remained in the third quarter. Serra ground out enough defensive stops and hit free throws late to prevail 59-54.

“We’ve worked all year for this. Of course we want to go farther. We left it all on the court,” said Alec Raven, who led all scorers with 26 points.

Playing like the top team from the North Coast Section, the Vikings made Serra from the rugged West Catholic Athletic Association earn the win.

“The game was intense. You’ve got to bring it at state. You’re playing for a little more,” said Kiel Long, one of Montgomery’s five senior starters.

Add Serra, a perennial Northern California power, to programs that respect Montgomery’s basketball tradition.

“That was our toughest game of the season. That’s a really, really good team,” said Serra leader Danny Mahoney.

Defense dictated the outcome as expected. Both squads guard tough and play disciplined, rarely allowing an opponent to shoot without a hand in his face.

For much of the contest Montgomery was better at working for open looks at the basket. Raven on the wing and Sam Averbuck from 3-point range led the Vikings to a six-point advantage at halftime.

Their eyes open a little wider after Montgomery took a double-digit lead advantage in the third quarter, Serra outscored the Vikings 17-5 to take the lead going into the final period.

A give-and-take fourth quarter was decided by Serra’s determination to score around the basket.

“We think we can beat everyone,” Raven said. “Coming down the stretch they made more plays.”

No one was better than Raven, a post player with guard skills. Quick to shed defenders and strong around the basket, he opened the game’s scoring with a baseline swish and ended the first quarter with a tip-in at the buzzer — the lead official pointing to the scorer’s table signaling the score good.

Montgomery would stretch its lead to seven points in the second quarter on a pair of 3-pointers from Averbuck.

“I was just shooting with confidence. That’s the key to being a shooter,” Averbuck said.

Serra’s full-court press and several backdoor cuts for scores kept the Padres close in the first half.

“We needed some stops,” said Serra coach Chuck Rapp. “When Montgomery gets open shots they can make them.”

Both teams were patient on offense, making the extra pass against determined defenses.

“It was very physical, especially after the first quarter. It was a different game,” said Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie. “They’re a really good team. I’m proud of how the guys played.”

Serra forged a third-quarter tie with a minute left off a block and fast break, with Jake Killingsworth scoring two of his 10 on the night.

“Montgomery was a lot more physical than we thought it would be,” Mahoney said. “We needed to get on them. That was a big focus coming out of halftime.”

That the Padres were within striking distance was a result, in part, to Montgomery’s poor free-throw shooting. The Vikings were only 12 of 25 in the game, including making 1 of 10 in the first half.

Still, the Vikings were within a score after Raven hit a 3-pointer, culminating a nine-point run on his own. Montgomery would get no closer with Sean Watkins hitting 4 of 5 Padres free throws to close out the win.

In a season with 26 wins, there was little reason for Montgomery players to hang their heads. While the Vikings had victory in reach, they respected Serra’s win, adding another chapter to Montgomery basketball’s legacy.

“It’s extremely tough. These guys are all my best friends,” Long said. “The Vikings team is more than that, it’s a community.”

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