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It’s funny what five days can do. It’s also funny what five points can do.

The Montgomery Vikings girls’ basketball team bested longtime rivals Santa Rosa in both their regular season contests en route to second place in the North Bay League. Both games were barn burners, decided by two points on Jan. 20 and six points on Feb. 9.

But in the NBL postseason tournament, contested just five days after the Vikings had beaten the Panthers by six points, Santa Rosa avenged their loss, winning 45-40 and advancing to the tournament title game against league champs Cardinal Newman.

It could have been seen as meaningless, a throwaway loss. The NBL tournament doesn’t mean much, at least as far as North Coast Section playoff seeding goes.

The Vikings, in Division 2, and the Panthers, in Division 1, would be judged on their preseason success and how they fared against teams in the same division, not necessarily how they did in the NBL tourney.

Try telling that to the Vikings.

“There were a few tears in that locker room,” first-year coach Darryl LaBlue said. “They were really disappointed.”

“I was disappointed for the seniors,” he said. “The winner of the game got to go and play in that atmosphere at the JC which is really cool. I wanted them to experience that.”

But if a team is going to have postseason disappointment, the Vikings chose a good time to have it. That loss to the Panthers, as painful as it was, didn’t affect their NCS seed — they earned a No. 2 rank and a home game last night.

And it just might have ignited a fire at just the right time. The Vikings handled No. 15 seed Kennedy of Fremont 62-37 Tuesday night to earn another home game for the quarterfinal Friday night.

“Lucky for us, I don’t want to say it was a dress rehearsal, but I think the kids these last few days in practice have been a little more focused,” LaBlue said before the game.

Because now, unlike in the NBL tourney, you win or go home.

“For me, it maybe motivated me to get things a little bit tighter, get our focus back up,” LaBlue said.

It’s been a different kind of year for the Vikings.

Just before the start of the season, ultra-successful varsity coach Steve Bell stepped down to care for his aging parents. But Bell passed the baton to LaBlue, his JV coach for all 26 years of his tenure and a guy who racked up 500-plus JV wins since 1990.

“I was really just trying to keep everything as normal as possible in terms of the returning players,” LaBlue said. “I have coached all of the players before so that wasn’t something that was new to me.”

To a casual observer, the transition looked seamless. Wins will do that.

The Vikings were 21-6 overall heading into the first round of playoffs Tuesday night and went 11-3 en route to a second place in the NBL.

“For me, I wasn’t as nervous coaching the kids,” he said. “What I needed to find out was ‘Am I ready for this?’ and ‘Are they ready for this?’ I don’t think it took long for us to figure it out because we started winning right away.”

On the move again

St. Vincent’s leagues

2016-17 – North Central League I

2015-16 – Bay Football League

2014-15 – NCL II

2013-14 – NCL II/Bay Football League

2012-13 – NCL II/Bay Football League

2011-12 – NCL II

2010-11 – NCL I-South

2009-10 – NCL I-South

2008-09 – NCL I-South

2007-08 – NCL I-South

2006-07 – NCL I-South

2005-06 – NCL I-South

2004-05 – NCL II

Behind the monster play of junior Shayla Newman, the Vikings have been a force.

Newman, a first team All-NBL and second team All-Empire player as a sophomore last season, is averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and nearly two assists per game — all team bests.

She’s also a steady hand for a team in transition, LaBlue said.

“Obviously, she is stability in the middle,” he said. “This is her third year on varsity so she knows what it’s all about.”

“We depend a lot on her,” he said.

Especially because the team is so young. Partly due to injury, the Vikings start sophomores McKenzie Weinmann and Ivy Lea, freshman Ashley Barr, junior Newman and senior Julia Watson.

These Vikings have figured out what they needed to know. The No. 2 seed they earned is two spots better than last year’s squad.

But LaBlue said that loss in the NBL tourney is a reminder: You have to win if you want to keep playing.

“I basically told them, these last few days, ‘We’re going to get a good seed,’” LaBlue said. “But are we just going to be happy to be there or are we going to participate?”

For some of these Vikings, each time out very well could be their last game. There is much to fight for.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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