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Rocklin tops St. Francis to advance to state championship

Lane, Stover, Romero, Kale score in double figures for Thunder
By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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Rocklin High beat top-seeded St. Francis of Mountain View 70-65 today in the NorCal basketball finals at Arco Arena. Now the Thunder, seeded No. 2 in NorCal for Division II, will play a familiar opponent in the state championship game at 8 p.m. at Arco Arena on Friday. Eisenhower of Rialto, who beat Loyola in Southern California today, beat Rocklin (32-2) during the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in San Diego 77-66 on Dec. 27. Eisenhower (31-3) has won its last 15 games while Rocklin is on a 22-game winning streak. “It will be kind of exciting to play them and (try to) avenge a loss,” said Rocklin coach Steve Taylor, who started the Rocklin basketball program in 1994. “They made (14) 3s in that game against us . . . and hopefully we’ll defend the shooters a little better.” Thunder junior point guard Jackson Cummings played against Eisenhower in December but that tournament was his first action of the season. Taylor limited his minutes severely because of a groin injury. “He’s been in pressure situations and it will help out a lot,” Thunder 6-10 center Brendan Lane said about having Cummings at full strength on Friday night. Rocklin led 34-31 at the half but outscored St. Francis 20-13 in the third quarter to open up the lead on Saturday evening. Rocklin led 66-51 with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter but the Lancers (30-3) closed to within 70-65 with 16.3 seconds remaining. Taylor called two timeouts while the lead shrank, yelling a little louder during the second timeout. The Thunder turned the ball over repeatedly during the stretch. “What part about slow down when you don’t have an advantage break are you not getting?” said Taylor about what he told his guys during a timeout with 40.9 seconds to go. “It’s hard playing fast for most of the game and having success in transition and then trying to pull the reins back.” Five points was as close as the Lancers would get though as Thunder senior forward Pat Stover grabbed a defensive rebound with about five seconds to go and Rocklin ran out the clock. Stover made 7-of-10 shots from the field and collected 15 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes. “I’m cutting and moving and being more aggressive. In league I’d get rebounds and get the ball out (to teammates) and let Brendan do his thing,” Stover said. “We played so well and we played so hard. This is probably the best game (we’ve played all year) considering the competition.” Lane finished with team highs in points (17) and rebounds (15) while also collecting four blocks in about 29 minutes. “It’s kind of unreal – the whole thing. Especially being up at the end (of the game),” Lane said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet . . . this is what we’ve been working for all year. We’ve just put in the work and it’s paying off right now. (But) we’re definitely going to have to play better (to beat Eisenhower).” As he has done all season, Lane avoided foul trouble. He fouled out of the Foundation Game on Dec. 1 and hasn’t fouled out since. He has battled foul trouble in recent seasons. “That’s been a big thing this year – I’ve focused on that,” Lane said. Senior Anthony Romero (11 points) and junior Cody Kale (10) joined Lane and Stover in double figures for the Thunder. Taylor, who won a California state title as a player at Roseville High, is very excited to have a chance to coach for one. “I’m proud of our guys – they have worked really hard to get here . . . It’s been a long journey and these guys deserve this because they’ve done everything we’ve asked of them,” Taylor said. “It’s been a real slugfest in three of the last four games, starting with Wood, and we thought (a faster pace) would help . . . we talked yesterday and our goal was to get in the 70s (points).” Shawn Grant led St. Francis with 24 points and he also grabbed nine rebounds. “We haven’t played against a team that big this year,” St. Francis coach Mike Motil said. “This year we’ve done very well with offensive rebounding and that really didn’t happen tonight . . . their length was an advantage in that regard.” Stover was one of the guys keeping St. Francis off the offensive glass and Rocklin will need him to help control the boards against Eisenhower too. “This is just fun – no nerves anymore,” Stover said. “When we saw (Eisenhower) come out – no one is big in stature but they play so hard. It’s the way they play (that makes them so tough).” Eisenhower is led by point guard Andrew Boch, who averages 20.8 points per game. He scored 25 in the first game against Rocklin.