Archbishop Hanna Hawks flying high after 100-90 win

Archbishop Hanna's Jhe'nearo Hemmingway goes to the basket as Valley Christian's Brady Bowen defends during the game held at Sonoma Valley High School, Wednesday, March 11, 2015. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)

Archbishop Hanna’s Jhe’nearo Hemmingway goes to the basket as Valley Christian’s Brady Bowen defends during the game held at Sonoma Valley High School, Wednesday, March 11, 2015. (Crista Jeremiason/The Press Democrat)

 

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SONOMA — It has been a season of milestones for the Archbishop Hanna basketball team: first time playing in the North Coast Section championship game, first opportunity to compete in the CIF NorCal bracket.

Check another box on the list. For the first time, and probably the last, the Hanna boys gave up 90 points to an opponent — and won.

“I’ve never seen a team push it like before like that, or shoot just like that,” Hawks senior Larry Michel said after his team’s withering 100-90 victory at Sonoma Valley High on Wednesday night. “It was like watching a college team play.”

Honestly, few teams do it like visiting Valley Christian of Roseville, at any level of basketball.

The Lions employ a frenetic style known as the Grinnell System, named after the small Iowa college where it was invented by coach Dave Arseneault, or simply The System. Valley Christian, like other subscribers to The System, attempt as many shots as they can, with an emphasis on 3-pointers. Every player but the shooter crashes for the offensive rebound, and whoever gets it kicks the ball back out for another quick shot. On defense, the Lions press constantly and double-team the guy with the ball whenever possible.

To execute this exhausting game plan, Valley Christian rotates three different five-man lineups in and out, hockey-line style, after every few minutes of clock time.

“Most teams aren’t 15 deep,” Hanna coach Courtney Jackson said. “Our fatigue sets in, and they’re bringing in a new squad that’s fresh and ready. And I think in those lulls is when we were getting tired, and that’s why we really had to dig deep into our bench tonight.”

In a game of thrusts and parries, the Hawks found themselves tied 87-87 with about 3:30 left, despite leading much of the evening.

It was gut-check time, and there’s something about Valley Christian’s relentless attack that makes those guts a little more likely to knot up. But Hanna finished the game on a 13-3 run and lives to play another day.

The Hawks will travel to Redding to play top-seeded Liberty Christian on Saturday.

Wednesday’s first-round NorCal game had both coaches thinking about what their teams could have done better. Valley Christian, with its pressure defense and emphasis on offensive rebounds, seeks to take far more shots than its opponent. The Lions did just that, with a whopping 97 shots to Hanna’s 74.

But the team from Roseville hit just 32 of those field-goal attempts, a rate of 33 percent.

“We missed a lot of open shots,” lamented Valley Christian coach Brad Gunter Jr., who brought The System to his program five years ago. “You gotta credit their guys, because they just stuck with it. One of the things that they did extremely well was attack us on the back end of our press.”

Jackson, meanwhile, knew that Hanna could have sewn up the game much earlier if it had taken better care of the ball. The Hawks don’t have a true point guard, and it showed as they turned over the ball 20 times — many of those on inbound passes after Valley Christian baskets.

At times, the action got away from the Hawks a bit. When they were able to stay composed, most of the one-on-one matchups favored them. And as Gunter suggested, when Hanna was able to break the press with passes over the top, easy baskets frequently awaited.

Valley Christian’s odd style and pace make for tough decisions, especially for a team like Hanna that likes to run. Jackson didn’t want to abandon his usual attack. At the same time, he didn’t want to play into the Lions’ hands.

“The biggest thing was, we just knew we’d be OK if we pushed the ball to keep the tempo that we normally play, which is what you saw, but do so going to the basket,” Jackson said. “I told everybody, when we get the ball past their press, go to the basket. There was no reason for us to run anything tonight. We didn’t run a single play all night.”

Hanna fell behind 20-13 late in the first quarter, perhaps a bit stunned by the tempo, but ended the period on a 7-0 run, then started the second quarter on an 11-3 break to go up 31-23. The Hawks’ biggest lead until the end was nine points, which they reached for the last time at 55-46, around the 5:30 mark of the third quarter.

Valley Christian wouldn’t go away, though. A 7-0 Lions run deep into the third quarter made it close, and they tied the game 68-68 near the end of the period, then claimed a 70-69 lead on a basket by junior Donald Huckaba to start the fourth. The teams raced up and down the court until it stood at 87-87, setting up Hanna’s strong finish.

An encouraging sign for the Hawks was their scoring distribution.

Senior Armani Perry, who missed most of the season with a meniscus tear but is recognized as the team leader, got off to a slow start against Valley Christian. It didn’t seem to matter much as seniors Jhe’nearo Hemmingway and Taray Cannon picked up the slack. In the third quarter, 6-foot-4 junior Fernando Marquez got hot and nailed three 3-pointers. And Perry emerged down the stretch, hanging in the air to knock down several short jumpers.

“Everyone plays their roles, and we sort of just look to hit the open man,” Michel said. “And they played their roles great. It was like a movie. Our coach is the director. He called ‘Action!’ and it started happening.”

Hemmingway led the way with 24 points, followed by Cannon with 22, Perry with 16 and Marquez with 15. Senior Nick O’Connor paced Valley Christian with 22 points. Huckaba added 17 and senior Daniel Milligan 14.

And so Hanna moves on, acknowledging its imperfections and yet brimming with confidence at the right time.

Asked if he was having fun during this once-in-a-lifetime run, Perry was emphatic.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “I’ve been enjoying this. Hopefully to go on to the championship for the first time in Hanna history. And also, championship game in NCS, we couldn’t finish the job. But now hopefully my team, we can do it this time.”