Stephen Blume waited until it mattered to have his best game of the season.
The Napa High senior scored a season-high 28 points to lead the Grizzlies as they routed second-place American Canyon 73-57 on Wednesday night at Messner Gym, clinching the Vine Valley Athletic League title outright.
Third-year Grizzlies head coach Zack Cook, a 1996 Napa High graduate, was sniffling happily after guiding his program to only its fourth league title in the 122-year history of the school.
“I’m still in shock,” he said. “It’s a good group of kids. They like each other, which is half the battle, and they’re fun to coach.”
“Look at him hold back the tears,” chimed in assistant coach Greg Johnson.
It’s Napa High’s first league title since the 1990-91 season. Grizzlies JV head coach Brad Swim was on that team and his son, senior Zach Swim, contributed 12 points for the current team Wednesday.
“We’ve been dreaming of this since our freshman year,” Blume said securing the VVAL crown. “To do it with Vince (O’Kelley, senior) and Zach is pretty awesome and to see the young guys get it so early is cool. Hopefully they get a few more.”
Blume said Napa (19-5, 10-0 VVAL), which visits Petaluma on Friday and hosts Casa Grande in Tuesday’s Senior Night game, didn’t feel extra pressure to clinch it against American Canyon (12-13, 7-4 VVAL), which hosts Sonoma Valley in its Senior Night game on Friday.
Brayden Greenlee supplied 10 points for Napa, while Brock Bowers added eight, Tyler Oda seven, O’Kelley five and Danny Ruiz two.
Oliver Aandahl led American Canyon with 19 points. Markest Johnson added 11, Sam Johannessen and Roman Madayag each added six, Matthew Clinton and Gabe Patrick five apiece, Eric Thomas three, and EJ Alviz two.
The Wolves had beaten Petaluma on Monday to avenge an earlier loss. But Napa was well on its way to a season sweep when it grabbed a 43-23 halftime lead, behind Blume’s first 22 points – including four 3-pointers.
“We just had to come out and play like we’d been playing all season and we’d get it done,” said Blume.
He’s probably the school’s top player in the less-team-oriented sport of golf in the spring, but he’s all about his teammates in basketball.
“It really helped out that everyone was hitting (shots) tonight, from inside and outside,” he continued. “We didn’t really have a bad night. We kinda had a lot of turnovers, but we were pretty composed and we didn’t think too much of (clinching) before the game.
“It was one of those nights. I just shot it and it went in. That was pretty cool, but the team really helped getting me open, and we ran a couple of plays by (head coach Zack) Cook that helped me get open –back cuts and stuff like that – and them finding me was helpful.”
Napa will host the fourth-place finisher on Feb. 5 in the first round of the four-team VVAL Tournament, which wraps up Feb. 7. The North Coast Section playoffs start Feb. 12 or 13.
“We’re just going to keep trying to get better so we can win in the playoffs, which would be a nice goal,” Blume added.
The Grizzlies haven’t had an off night in six weeks, winning 12 straight after an 85-61 setback at Bethel on Dec. 22.
“We have so many offensive and defensive weapons, it’s hard to stop our team,” Blume said. “If one person’s not hitting (shots), someone else is, and we like to be the more physical. We’re not selfish about who scores, as long as we get the win. That comes from practice and (Cook) installing in our brains ‘team above individual.’ He’s been saying it all year.”
Greg Johnson, a 1981 Napa High alumnus who before Cook assisted Napa head coaches Mike Warrington (2001-08), Chuck Johnson (2008-10) and Scott Blunt (2010-16).
“When Coach Warrington was here, we made the playoffs three out of his six years. We had a good team bond, we were hard working, and we were disciplined,” he recalled. “Those years in between, things were a little out of control. There was no discipline. We just tidied things up. Coach Cook has good values and he’s been working hard to become a good coach. This is the fruits of everything he’s put into it and it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of it.
“One thing that’s made us come together is the bench guys are great, the ones that don’t play. They are at practice every day working hard. We haven’t had a bad practice since Christmas. The last bad practice we had was before our last loss. Since then we’ve just been really cooking along. Coach wants practices to be intense and they can get hard, but the guys don’t complain.”
Cook likes that Blume isn’t the only Grizzly who can lead the team.
“We’ve got four or five guys who have scored over 20 more than once this year, so it’s really nice that we don’t know who will be hot. But we’re pretty sure there will be one or two.”
American Canyon held Petaluma to one third-quarter point on Monday, but couldn’t stop Blume.
“He can get open when they trap and we’re able to pass out of traps and reverse the ball,” Cook explained. “They can’t stick a guy on him the whole time, so that helps him get open a little easier. But he’s been playing good against all types of teams.”