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Woodcreek stops Rocklin, now one win from section crown

Oakmont up next in section title tilt
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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Cashing in a second-quarter explosion that gave it as much as a 21-point advantage, the Woodcreek High boys basketball team took care of business Thursday night with a 71-64 win over Rocklin. Rocklin has made Arco Arena its home away from home in recent seasons, winning the last two section titles and last year’s Northern California crown on the purple floor. On this night, the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal between two Sierra Foothill League rivals saw both teams struggle out of the chute, but it was the Timberwolves who caught fire first. Riding the back of a tenacious defense that limited Rocklin’s scoring chances, Woodcreek found balanced scoring to be the key in the first half. Beginning with a traditional three-point conversion by senior guard Ryan Milat and carrying through a Nik Milani bucket with four minutes left before intermission, the Timberwolves ran off a 29-8 spurt to open the contest. “We wanted to come in and hit them early,” said Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton. “We did that and got out to the big lead. Foul trouble got us a little bit, but the great thing about this team is we get it from so many people.” In the first half, reserve guard John Peska was the fifth player off the Timberwolf bench, but there were no bigger shots in the early Woodcreek run than his back-to-back 3-pointers. Add to that performance the work of Derek Anganes on the glass and with some critical baskets, and the defensive efforts of Devin Murphy and James Geyer, and you have a bench that is a major piece of this story. “Our goal is to give the team a lift when we get out there,” Anganes said. “We want to leave the game better than it was when we got out there. If we came in up by six, we want to leave up by 10 points.” Rocklin used a 10-2 run to close within 13 at the break, but most of the Thunder first-half offense came at the charity stripe. The Thunder made a few runs at the Woodcreek lead in the second half, and closed it to a 10-point margin three minutes into the third period. The problem for Rocklin was that they could never overcome that original margin in total. Senior guard Cody Kale put his team on his back with 30 second half points on his way to a 37 point night, but there was just not enough production from his teammates, who combined for just 27 total points in the game. “You really can not stop him,” Pinkerton said in discussing Kale. “He is an excellent player.” For a team that has done a lot of great work from behind the three-point arc all year long, Woodcreek put a particular emphasis on taking the ball inside against the D-II No. 6 seeded Thunder. “We need to play strong team basketball. That’s what we have been preaching all year long,” Pinkerton said. “No one is really as deep as we are. It’s tough to shoot from the outside well at Arco.” Woodcreek closed out the game with some outstanding free throw shooting, particularly by Milani and 6-foot-11 center Mike Kurtz. Kurtz drained 8-of-8 from the stripe down the stretch, while Milani was 4-of-5 in the final stanza. Every one of the 10 Woodcreek players who saw action Thursday night played a role in the win. Starting point guard Ryan Sondhi scored seven critical second half points as this truly was a team effort from the unit that has done it all year long. Kurtz and Milani each scored 16 points to lead the way for Woodcreek, while Anganes added 11 points and Milat added 10. The win puts Woodcreek back on the floor at Arco at 4:30 p.m. Saturday for the section title game. Once again, the Timberwolves will see a very familiar foe. Cross-town rival and SFL runner-up Oakmont won the night’s second semifinal. The season does not end here for Rocklin (20-9) as the newly expanded Northern California playoffs will welcome all four section semifinalists. That bracket will be released Sunday afternoon. Woodcreek (25-5) has beaten the Vikings (22-6) three times already this season, but none of the prior matchups came with the importance attached to Saturday’s battle. Rocklin and Fairfield had played for the last two section titles, but both went down on a wild night at Arco Arena. “(Oakmont coach) Rick Campbell is a very good friend,” Pinkerton said. “No disrespect to Fairfield, but I wanted to see Oakmont win. No one deserves this more than these kids on our team. They have worked hard at this for years and it is great to see them enjoy this success.” The Woodcreek players were not as concerned about who they play next, but remain supremely confident that they can get this done. Entering the tournament as the No. 2 seed, the Timberwolves have played like a team on a mission from the outset and that is sure to continue Saturday. “We know those guys and some of our guys have played with some of them,” Anganes said. “We just feel that anyone we play we will beat. We think we are the best team in the section.” Come Saturday night, the Timberwolves get a chance to prove it one more time.