Woodcreek, Rocklin rubber match Thursday at Arco
Ever since back-to-back losses four weeks ago caused some to doubt it, the Woodcreek High boys basketball team has played like a team on a mission.
Losses to Rocklin and Del Oro seem to have ignited the passions of the Sierra Foothill League champions, who have destroyed their first two postseason foes. When the Timberwolves arrive at Arco Arena Thursday night, they will see a familiar opponent in the section semifinals, Rocklin.
While the big stage at the section level is a new experience for this group of Woodcreek players, the Thunder have played so many games in Arco Arena that it is almost a home away from home. Rocklin will need that to work in its favor if it hopes to compete with the deep and talented Timberwolves.
“Rocklin is a rival and we split, so this will be the tie-breaker,” said Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton. “They have been there before and have been through all the Arco/section hoopla. I think Jackson (Cummings) has been there three years in a row.”
Neither coach sees the experience factor as an issue once the ball is tossed in the air.
“I think it will help the players on our team be more relaxed that played at Arco last year,” said Rocklin coach Steve Taylor. “It is definitely a different playing experience for the players. That being said, once the game starts I think a lot of the nerves will go away for both teams.”
“I think Rocklin having been there is an advantage for them,” Pinkerton said. “Some of those players were on the state runner-up team. I guess you always worry that your players will get caught up in the hoopla and lose focus but I just don't think this group (Woodcreek) will.”
The greatest advantage to both teams is most likely the thing that they share in common, a season of play in the section’s most competitive league, the Sierra Foothill League.
“I think all of the tough games we have in the SFL, particularly on the road, prepares us for games like we had the other night at Yuba City,” Taylor said. “Our players performed really well under pressure because of their experience and confidence. We have the strongest league this year in the Sacramento area and I think (our league’s postseason showing) reinforces that.”
In addition to this SFL matchup, the league’s second-place team, Oakmont, will play in Thursday’s other semifinal.
Both coaches point to rebounding as keys to victory as Rocklin tries to counter Woodcreek’s 6-foot-11 center Mike Kurtz with its own big man, 6-7 Alika Lemon. The major battles will take place on the fringes, where Rocklin’s Cody Kale and Woodcreek’s Nik Milani like to attack the basket and play bigger than their 6-4 frames, while Tony Williams tries to hold up against the pressure provided by a Woodcreek team that goes eight or nine players deep as they frenetically pressure the ball.
The Timberwolves come at opponents in waves with guards Ryan Sondhi, Devin Murphy, Ryan Milat and John Peska all playing pivotal roles. While Kurtz holds down the painted area, Milani, Nik Stathopoulos, James Geyer and Derek Anganes can all provide offense when needed to go with high-intensity pressure defense.
The experience of point guard Jackson Cummings is a factor for Rocklin as well, and the No. 6 Thunder will need a huge game from him to hang with the talented second-seeded Timberwolves.
“We are as healthy as we have been all year,” Taylor said. “Jackson Cummings is finally starting to feel better after struggling with a back injury most of league play.”
That would be good news for Taylor as his team tries to get back to the title game, where a rematch is possible between two familiar foes, Rocklin and Fairfield. With the way Woodcreek (24-5) is playing, it will take all hands on deck for the Thunder (20-8) to beat the team that still feels it has something to prove.
“They are a very good team that is playing extremely well right now and will be tough for us to beat,” Taylor said. “We will have to play a great game in order to compete with them.”
FYI: Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball D-II semifinals Thursday at Arco Arena Winners play in section final Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Arco Arena.
Admission: $17 for adults, $8 for students
Parking: $12 for cars, $30 for buses
7:30 – Rocklin vs. Woodcreek
9:00 – Fairfield vs. Oakmont
Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball D-II semifinals
Thursday at Arco Arena
Winners play in section final Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Arco Arena.