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Too little, too late for Timberwolves

Huge fourth quarter leaves Woodcreek 3 points short
By: Kurt Johnson, senior sports editor
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Playing to extend an amazing season, and down 17 points on the road, the Woodcreek High boys basketball team dug deep Friday night, but came up just short in a 70-67 loss to Bella Vista in the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. A pair of seniors who apparently did not want to see their high school careers end just yet nearly willed their team to an amazing comeback effort. After sitting much of the first half after a pair of early fouls, senior guard Nick Alongi scored all of his 21 points after intermission, and forward Jordan Franks was unstoppable in the block. His 17-point fourth-quarter effort was the stuff of legends, as he drained four high-arching 3-pointers, a pair from very deep, in the attempt to steal this one from the Broncos, the No. 3 seed in the tourney. “These guys were the No. 11 seed, but you can tell they were no 11 seed,” said Bella Vista coach David Gonzalez. “Woodcreek is a great basketball team and playing in the Sierra Foothill League night in and night out clearly prepared them for the playoffs.” The contest was tight through the first period, which ended with Bella Vista clinging to a one-point lead. With Alongi on the bench, and 6-foot-11 center Mike Kurtz struggling to find his offensive rhythm, the Broncos seized the opportunity and took a 35-25 lead into intermission. “We have had a lot of foul trouble lately,” said Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton. “It’s hard to keep overcoming that.” The efforts of junior guard Ryan Milat (eight points in the first half) and Franks (11 first-half points) kept the midway score from being much worse. Milat did his damage driving to the bucket and shooting from the outside, while Franks was dominant posting up and attacking the rim. Behind the scoring of its usual inside-outside duo, guard Tim Martin and forward Justin Haley, Bella Vista appeared to put the game on ice in the third quarter. The Broncos got a nice lift from the bench as well. “We got some huge shots from (reserve guard) Arnold Meza in the third quarter,” Gonzalez said. With chants of “Arco, Arco” ringing in their ears as the Bella Vista crowd sensed a trip to the section semifinal, the Timberwolves refused to go down without the kind of fight that has characterized their season. “These are some gutsy kids,” Pinkerton said. “They overcame a lot this season, with injuries and sickness. This was just an amazing effort and it was a tough one to lose.” “We knew there was another run in them,” Gonzalez said. “Franks is just so tough in there. We did a nice job on the other big man (Kurtz), but we could not stop Franks. He is big and strong and so athletic.” With Franks, Milat and Kurtz all hitting key baskets, and Alongi putting on a shooting exhibition, Woodcreek ran off 10 straight points to open the fourth, and pull within seven with 4:27 remaining on the clock. It took a while to get closer, but the Timberwolves finally closed within two at the 1:49 mark. The teams swapped baskets, and Bella Vista converted a single charity toss, taking the game to 65-62 inside of one minute before the end of the contest. Down three with just 27 seconds to play, Alongi drove hard to the basket and appeared to be fouled by a Bronco defender stepping in front of him. No blocking foul was called, and the wild shot missed its mark, falling to Bella Vista. “That (no call) with 27 seconds left was a tough break,” Pinkerton said. “It looked like there had to be something there.” The game came down the final eight seconds, with the Timberwolves trailing by six points at 70-64. Alongi found the range from well beyond the three-point line to trim the margin to just three. After a Woodcreek timeout, the Timberwolves quickly fouled Haley and sent the usually reliable senior to the line for a pair of free throws. The Bronco big man, who won the squad’s first round game against Granite Bay from the stripe, this time missed both. That pair of missed free throws opened the door for Woodcreek, leaving it down three with seven seconds showing. “Our rule is that under 15 seconds, we run it up in that situation,” Pinkerton said, explaining the reason he did not use a timeout. “We got a good look at it, but could not get it in. The Timberwolves (21-8) ran it up the court, and Nik Milani had an opportunity on the run just beyond the arc to hit the tying shot, but his 3-pointer bounced off the rim, leaving Woodcreek eliminated from the postseason while the Broncos move on to Arco Arena and the semifinals. “This is a great group of kids, and it was a tough way to lose,” Pinkerton said. “They gave a great effort.”