Benefield: Hot-shooting tandem leads Cloverdale boys to 49-33 victory

Cloverdale's John McMillan watches his shot reach its target during their first-round NCS Division 4 playoff game against Fortuna in Cloverdale, Wednesday, Feb. 25. (Jeremy Portje / For The Press Democrat)

Cloverdale’s John McMillan watches his shot reach its target during their first-round NCS Division 4 playoff game against Fortuna in Cloverdale, Wednesday, Feb. 25. (Jeremy Portje / For The Press Democrat)

By KERRY BENEFIELD

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In a dominating performance that highlighted the gifts of the team’s two biggest stars, the No. 9 Cloverdale Eagles upset the visiting No. 8 Fortuna Huskies Wednesday night 49-33 in front of a raucous home crowd.

It marked the first time in five tries that the Eagles had topped the Huskies, but this time, it was never really close, thanks to the play of senior John McMillan and junior Marcus Poe.

The tandem accounted for 29 of the Eagles’ 49 points.

But bigger than the numbers was the duo’s timing.

John McMillan, whose father, Craig, won two state championships wearing No. 20 for the Eagles in the early ’80s and whose grandfather was a legendary coach, carried the team in the opening quarter with eight of the team’s 17 points, including a steal that he took coast to coast for a dunk that ignited the crowd.

“Everyone was a little cold in the beginning,” McMillan said.

Everyone but McMillan. He kept the crowd chanting “MVP! MVP!” with his hot hand, going 4 of 5 from the field in the first quarter.

But where was Poe?

To be fair, the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game to McMillan’s 15, got pummeled in the face at one point and was clearly shaken. He missed the front end of a one and one — his only shot of the quarter. He was clearly out of sync.

But that just made what he did in the remaining three quarters all the more dazzling. And it might not even show up in the stat sheets, but after McMillan carried the Eagles in the first, Poe took the reins thereafter, dropping in points and grabbing countless rebounds to quash any kind of momentum Fortuna tried to build.

Once he got going, the Huskies could not move the mountain that was Marcus Poe.

“Marcus is a dominating player, you saw that tonight,” Cloverdale head coach Steve Bernardi said.

Poe had just four points in the second period but was dominating on the boards, leading the Eagles to a 27-18 lead at the half. And he simply owned the third quarter.

Poe had eight of the Eagles’ 12 points and finished the game with a team-high 18. Oh, and he pulled down about 318 rebounds.

And Fortuna could not get anything going.

The usually sharpshooting Huskies, who were forced to travel to Cloverdale after the Eagles secured a home-court opener by virtue of their North Central 1 league championship, could not find their rhythm in the daunting environs of the Cloverdale Quonset hut. They managed only nine points in the first quarter and nine points in the second.

“We couldn’t buy a basket tonight,” Fortuna head coach Brian Franklin said. “We were getting open looks.”

The Huskies missed layups and some crucial put-backs —misses that seemed to deflate the visitors.

“My juniors have a tendency to freeze up and not look for their shots,” Franklin said.

Or maybe they just saw Adrian Bernardi’s hand.

The junior was tapped to mark Daniel Teasley, the Huskies’ slashing guard. Bernardi bodied Teasley all night, never letting him get any kind of rhythm. Teasley finished with nine points.

“Adrian did a hell of a job,” Bernardi said of his son.

The Huskies’ Lane Sotomayor led Fortuna with 11 points, including three from beyond the arc.

Maybe it was the memory of the drubbing the Eagles took at the hands of the Huskies last season, or the fact that their last loss — one of only five this season — was a 58-51 defeat against Fortuna last month.

Or maybe it was the fact that the seniors were playing what was very likely their last game on the Eagles’ home court.

Whatever it was, when the Eagles needed a player to step up, it happened. And it was usually either McMillan or Poe.

Bernardi said Wednesday night was special because it was likely the homecourt send-off for seniors and varsity standouts Greg Scaramella and John McMillan — whose legendary last name is draped all over the gym walls.

“(McMillan) had a lot of weight to bear in his first three years but he let it all go,” Bernardi said. “He’s done everything to make Cloverdale proud, his family proud and his coach proud.”

“We took care of business,” McMillan said. “I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”

The Eagles’ business continues with a second-round matchup with Cardinal Newman on Saturday.

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