Benefield: Vikings’ Michael Septimo driven to win after basketball absence (w/video)

Michael Septimo works out with his team during practice at Montgomery High School, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

Michael Septimo works out with his team during practice at Montgomery High School, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

By KERRY BENEFIELD

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tremendous. Exceptional. Spectacular.

The superlatives to describe Michael Septimo’s talents as a point guard for the Montgomery Vikings come fast and furious — kind of like the ways he can hurt you on the court.

He can shoot the 3 or drive the lane with ball control that is unparalleled in the North Bay League this year. He’ll break the press or get a nifty assist.

He can take over a game.

Just ask Cardinal Newman head coach Tom Bonfigli, whose team fell victim to a Septimo showcase that has no equal this season.

“He was tremendous,” he said of Septimo’s phenomenal performance in the Vikings’ 50-40 win against his Cardinals in a pivotal NBL game Jan. 28. “Not everyone can shoot the ball and there are not a lot of people who are true scorers. He is a true scorer.”

“I think he’s probably the best point guard in the whole area,” he said.

What made Septimo’s night — he had 32 of the Vikings’ 50 points — all the more remarkable was the month that preceded it.

Septimo, the 6-foot floor leader for the Vikings, went down in the third quarter of a tournament game in San Diego Dec. 26. It was a severe sprain of his MCL and the doctor said he’d be out four to six weeks.

Merry Christmas.

“I knew it was bad,” Septimo said. “It was probably the worst pain I have ever felt.”

Septimo practiced or played exactly four times before his outburst against Newman.

And with Septimo down, down, too, went the Vikings’ fortunes.

The squad, which raced to a 5-2 start at the beginning of the season, went 4-7 without their floor leader, including dropping six in a row immediately after he went down.

“It really hurts me inside,” Septimo said of watching his team’s slide while he was out. “I could have been out there making a big difference for these guys.”

The Vikings had to find themselves a bit and make some changes when they no longer had Septimo bringing the ball up the floor or running the offense.

“He is such an exceptional player, plus we don’t have anyone like that — nobody can really handle the ball like that,” Vikings coach Tom Fitchie said. “He’s probably as good a ball handler as I’ve had in 31 years.”

While Fitchie rejiggered his lineup, he was also pained for his felled leader.

“I felt so bad for him,” he said. “He has put so much time into becoming as good a player as he is. He has waited his turn. This was his time.”

Fitchie needn’t have worried. Septimo seemed bent on making up for lost time the moment he hit the court again.

Septimo rehabbed his knee and eyed the Santa Rosa game on Jan. 26 for his return. But truth be told, it was the Cardinal Newman matchup two nights later that was his true target.

The Cardinals had manhandled the Vikings 55-35 in their first league matchup Jan. 7 while Septimo sat on the bench.

Septimo wanted to change the story the next time around. So he essentially wrote his own script, replete with highlight reel plays, lights-out shooting, solid defense — and yes, the win.

Cardinal Newman had no answer for him.

Septimo shot from everywhere on the floor and rarely missed. He had 29 of the Vikings’ 36 points after three quarters.

When Newman’s center Gunnar Walker hustled to the top of the key to help guard Damian Wallace try to trap Septimo, No. 3 simply muscled between the two and either flipped a pass to an open teammate or dribbled away. Every time.

“That day I felt like I could pretty much do anything,” he said.

Anything, like, say, beating a triple team?

At the opening of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals tried to trap Septimo with a press at midcourt. Septimo’s original pass was blocked, sending the ball floating into the air. So he out-leaped his three defenders and flung the ball to teammate Jack Fitchie to retain possession.

All that on a knee that even now he says is about 80 percent.

“Especially when I first came back, I was definitely thinking about it,” he said. “I wasn’t able to move as laterally. I had to anticipate the game more because I didn’t move as well.”

Teammate Fitchie said he moved just fine. The dribble penetration Septimo can provide frees everybody else up for looks.

“He’s a true point guard. He does everything,” he said. “ The penetration is key for us. He’s just a floor general.”

A floor general with presence, according to Jack Fitchie, who calls Septimo’s play calm and collected.

But Fitchie and others said as hard as it was to play through the one-month stretch that Septimo was out, as hard as it was to watch the losses pile up, the team might, just might, be a stronger unit for it.

And those losses? They were in the preseason, games scheduled to get the Vikings battle-ready for the ultra-tight NBL.

And now the Vikes are looking to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“You can’t really go by the losses,” Tom Fitchie said. “Our schedule was crazy hard compared to a lot of schedules in the area.”

And with a share of the NBL title now under their belts, the Vikings’ schedule from here on out is the only thing that matters for Septimo and the rest of the Vikings.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.