There was no public address announcer at the American Canyon boys basketball team’s Vine Valley Athletic League Tournament opener against Casa Grande on Wednesday night.
Had there been, it would have sounded like a Golden State Warriors game, with “Curry for three” being repeated during a fourth-quarter comeback.
This wasn’t Warriors star Steph Curry. It was Wolves freshman Khai Curry, hitting three 3-pointers in the fourth to rally No. 2 seed American Canyon to a 67-57 victory over the No. 3 Gauchos.
The Wolves (14-13) outscored Casa Grande (14-13) 24-14 in the final stanza to earn a rematch with No. 1 Napa (22-5) for the tournament title at 7 p.m. Friday.
In a 73-57 loss at Napa on Jan. 30, American Canyon trailed 22-10 after one quarter and never made a serious comeback. On Wednesday, Casa Grande used hot 3-point shooting to jump ahead 16-5 in the first few minutes. But its lead had shrunk to 18-9 by the end of the quarter and to 30-23 by halftime, before the teams entered the fourth tied 43-43.
“Their backs were to the wall,” head coach Brett Wedding said of his Wolves, “so they took it upon themselves to play harder on defense and be more aggressive on offense.”
Curry had all of his nine points on treys in the fourth – the last on a kickout pass from grateful senior Sam Johannessen (10 points, eight rebounds), who would like nothing more than a tourney title after missing last season due to knee surgery.
“I feel like he’s stepped up a lot,” Johannessen said of Curry, “especially now with the season just a game away from ending, where every game and every play matters. I’m glad that he, as a freshman, stepped up tonight and showed what he could do.”
Gabe Patrick, who had 18 points and three steals, said Curry’s threes “woke us up, gave us spark, and then his spark on defense gave us some motivation with steals. Then Sam scored, what, six points straight? We finally got it going.”
Oliver Aandahl 21, the sophomore guard who has led the Wolves’ scorers in most games, said Curry helped them recover from a nagging issue that they might not get away with when the North Coast Section playoffs begin next week.
“Our main problem is we come out flat first half. We dig ourselves a big hole and we have to make up for it with a lot of work in the second half,” said Aandahl. “Beyond this season, we’ll try to progress and stay consistent throughout the whole game. We’re not doing that right now, so we have to fight back. We need to set the tone early, throw the first punch. But Khai came through big. We really needed that.”
Matt Clinton had five points, Roman Madayag three and EJ Alviz one to round out American Canyon’s scoring, while Eric Thomas supplied three steals, four deflections and four rebounds.
A 20-13 third quarter got the Wolves back in the game.
“At halftime we just got together and said ‘This might be our last game, and Sam’s last high school game, so let’s play our heart out,’” Patrick said. “We all locked in and said ‘We’re going to win this game. We’ve just got to believe we can do it.’”
After routing the Gauchos by 19 points at home and losing to them by 15 in Petaluma, the Wolves were due again in front of their boisterous home crowd.
“It’s a game of checkers,” Patrick summed of the budding rivalry.
Added Johannessen, “It was a matter of who wanted to play harder, and tonight we wanted to play harder. We’ve got a lot of young guys, but that doesn’t matter. We still gotta go out and just hoop.
“Napa has been real dominant and if we want to beat them, we have to play (hard) all four quarters – every play, every possession – and we’ve got to be there for each other.”
Despite his team’s second-place finish during the VVAL regular season, Wedding said these tournament games could be key to reaching the playoffs in their first season in the NCS.
“I think we have a pretty respectable chance to make playoffs,” he said. “We didn’t start out strong but at the end of the season, which I think is most important, we’ve been playing good. We’ve been at full strength since Dec. 19 and since then we’re 13-5. Unfortunately, a few of those preseason games that I feel don’t matter as much as league games are taken into consideration when they (seed for the) playoffs.”
That’s why Wedding and assistant coach Chris Rapacon let their team know at halftime that a loss could have ended the season.
“We talked about effort and heart. We told them ‘There’s no guarantee that we have another game, because we don’t know our fate for the playoffs yet.’ So they took it upon themselves to play harder, play better team ball. They moved the ball much better in the second half, reversing the ball, getting the (Gauchos’) defense to have to close out, and hitting threes when they counted. It was nice to see.”
Despite losing to Napa by 10 and 16 points this season, American Canyon – which, as the No. 2 seed, will be the visitor on its own court – is hoping the third time’s the charm.
“I’m a competitor, Coach Rap is a competitor, and we want to beat ‘em,” said Wedding, a Napa High graduate. “We want to beat ‘em on our home court. I wouldn’t say we played our best against Napa either of the first two games, so we’re hoping we do that this time.”