AMERICAN CANYON — The Napa High boys basketball team added to its trophy case with a Vine Valley Athletic League Tournament championship win, 62-48, on Friday night over host American Canyon.
Zach Swim notched a double-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and two assists, Stephen Blume chipped in 19 points with three assists and one board, and Brock Bowers had a typical all-around performance with 11 points, 12 rebounds and five assists as the Grizzlies shook off a poor first half to close out the game strong.
The Grizzlies (23-5), who extended their winning streak to 16 games, ride into the CIF North Coast Section playoffs scorching.
But win No. 23 didn’t come easily, as the Wolves (14-14) jumped all over the Grizzlies early en route to a 17-6 lead through the game’s first five minutes.
“They came out with a good game plan and hit us in the mouth early,” Napa head coach Zack Cook said. “I knew they would have them ready to go. They were shooting really well from three and we just stayed the course.
“We felt like they wouldn’t keep shooting that well all night and we just kept chipping away and were able to pull it out.”
While many teams would be shell-shocked after trailing by double-digits early, the Grizzlies gave young ballers in the audience a perfect lesson on how to be calm and confident in the face of adversity as they went on an 18-8 run to cut the deficit to just 25-24 at the half.
“They came out hot and we sort of held it together,” said Blume. “They thought we were going to quit and we just kept pushing until the end. We just came out and kind of weathered the storm.”
American Canyon received solid performances from Sam Johannessen (nine points, four rebounds, one assist), Oliver Aandahl (nine points, three rebounds, one assist), Gabriel Patrick (six points, three boards, one assist) and Max Parmigiani (nine points). But the wheels fell off for the Wolves late as their hot shooting faded and Napa seized momentum.
“I thought we played with a lot of effort,” American Canyon head coach Brett Wedding said. “We didn’t hit shots in the second half after hitting early. We missed a lot of layups and we didn’t hit free throws. But it was a good, competitive game. Napa is a really good team. Hopefully some of our younger guys will be motivated to improve in the offseason.”
After the Wolves came out of halftime with a quick bucket from Matthew Clinton, Napa turned on the jets and went on a game-changing 20-2 run that flipped the contest on its head and gave the Grizzlies a 44-29 advantage. Aided by a bevy of transition buckets, they turned defensive stops into fast-break opportunities and capitalized on nearly every chance.
“We like to push it a lot,” Blume said. “We condition a lot for it and teams aren’t really used to it. They get tired. So, we just try to push it as many times as we can and we think it’s to our benefit.”
Needing a spark to get back on track, American Canyon got a surprise lift from Parmigiani, a junior varsity call-up who had been practicing with the team for less than a week.
The sweet-shooting freshman got his team back on track late in the third quarter with three straight corner treys – all on perfect swishes – that helped the Wolves end the frame down only 46-38.
“We just called him up for this week after he did really well on JV for us,” Wedding said. “Great shooter. He came in, did his job and hit a couple shots to give us a spark.
“Unfortunately, we needed a few more contributions from others, too.”
As Napa pulled away in the fourth quarter, the minds of the American Canyon faithful began to wander toward a potential NCS Division II playoff berth, with “Selection Sunday” looming this weekend.
After starting the season 1-8, the Wolves finished strong and believe they deserve a shot to make some noise in their inaugural season in a new section.
“We’ll definitely apply (for NCS playoffs),” said Wedding. “In my opinion, if you do well in league, you should have a shot at the playoffs. We started poorly. But we’ve improved immensely and though we lost tonight, we’ve been playing good ball towards the end of the year. I hope we get a shot.”
Meanwhile, Napa has wrapped up a Division I berth and is just waiting to find out who it’ll play next. Already the winningest team in school history in their sport, playoff success is next on the Grizzlies’ to-do list.
As VVAL champions, they’re guaranteed a home playoff game unless they match up against a higher seeded team that is also a league champ. Considering that the Grizzlies are 15-0 at Messner Gym and 8-5 everywhere else, home court advantage could make a big difference.
In its first playoff game since 2005, Napa will look for its first postseason victory since it beat Downey 53-49 in the first round at home on Feb. 21, 2001.
“I’m excited. I want to see who we play,” Blume exclaimed. “I can tell Coach Cook really wants a playoff win and all the guys want it, too. I think it’s going to be a fun game with good competition. That’s going to be super fun on Tuesday.”
Andy Wilcox contributed to this story.