Both the Calistoga High boys and girls basketball teams made the North Coast Section playoffs for a second straight year and were to begin postseason play with a home doubleheader on Wednesday.
The girls, the No. 2 seed in Division VI, were to host 15th seed California School for the Deaf in the first round, while the 12th-seeded boys were to face fifth-seeded Emery (14-4).
Though both teams were focused on their first-round matchups Tuesday, they entered the postseason with much different expectations. The boys are simply looking to win their first section playoff game in well over a decade, while the girls have aspirations of winning a section title.
“No surprises,” girls co-coach Cesar Cruz said Tuesday of the girls’ seeding, the highest in program history. “I knew we were going to get the 2 seed. We wanted the 1, but (top seed) Laytonville is a pretty solid team and had a little tougher schedule than we did. So I think it was fair, us as the 2 and them as the 1. … Overall, we’re ready. We had a good practice yesterday. We told the girls we’ve got to take it a game at a time. We can’t look forward to Laytonville and just take care of business on Wednesday. That’s where we’re at right now.”
A season ago, the girls were the No. 5 seed in the NCS playoffs and picked up two wins before falling to top-seeded Laytonville in the semifinals. Laytonville went on to fall to California School for the Deaf, a Fremont school, in the title game. But the Eagles are a much different team than they were a year ago, having lost five seniors from their championship team.
For reaching the semifinals last winter, the Wildcats earned a berth to the Division VI Northern California playoffs. They are aiming for a repeat trip to that stage, at the very least. They’ve been one of the premier small school teams in California this season and, at 21-3 overall, are currently the ninth-ranked Division VI team in the state, according to MaxPreps.com.
“We’re ready and the girls are ready for the challenge,” Cruz said. “We’ve got the chance to host three home games, and they worked really hard for that. … The girls are just really focused and, having seven seniors with that leadership and confidence just walking in the gym, teams look at us not like the old Calistoga.”
Being such a highly touted team comes with its detractors, though. There isn’t likely to be a team the Wildcats face this postseason that takes them lightly, Cruz and co-coach Ray Particelli said, but they also need to not overlook any of their opponents. Specifically, the coaches are warning against looking ahead to Laytonville, the team that knocked them that routed them by 30 points in the NCS playoffs last year. The Wildcats know that if they are to take care of business on their end of the bracket, a meeting with the Warriors in the finals is likely.
But now is not the time to be thinking about that.
“That’s one thing that Coach Ray has been telling these girls is ‘stay focused, stay hungry, don’t look past Wednesday night’s game,’ and they know,” Cruz said. “The girls understand, having the experience they do, that the road to success is going to go through Laytonville.”
The boys also felt confident heading into their matchup with Emery, despite the mismatch on paper.
The Spartans boast a dangerous one-two punch in senior guard Anthony Weathers and junior forward Jayden Cummings. Weathers averaged a team-best 28 points per game and made 65 3-pointers in 15 games this season at a 66-percent clip. The 6-foot-2 Cummings went in averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. That’s about all the firepower the Spartans have, though, as the next highest scorer is at 4.7 points per game.
“We just have to play good defense,” Cruz said. “We’re going to pinpoint that in practice (Tuesday). … I like our chances – our defense is tough – if we just play our game and understand that defense wins games. We’ve just got to play four good quarters and we’ve been doing that well over the last month, especially on the defensive side.”
In the playoffs a year ago, the Wildcats were quickly overwhelmed in the 15-2 matchup in the first round. But now they’re back with some postseason experience and have been playing their best basketball over the last month-plus of the season.
“This year, the kids are much more confident,” Cruz said. “They’ve been there before, so they know what it takes. We walk in a gym and we just have a different feel. Last year we walked in a gym and we weren’t sure about ourselves. This year we’re walking in with a little chip on our shoulder. I’m not saying we’re walking in like a 1 or 2 seed, but it’s just a different vibe in our gym this year. … I’m not saying we’re going to beat the 5 seed, but I like our chances. We’re going to be ready.”
Contact Gus via phone at 707-304-9372 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustGusMorris.
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