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Benefield: Montgomery girls win tough challenge

Montgomery's Ciarah Michalik, left, and McKenzie Weinmann high-five each other after defeating Menlo-Atherton in the CIF NorCal Division 2 first round playoff game on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

KERRY BENEFIELD,

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The No. 6 seed Montgomery Vikings survived lackluster second and third quarters in their home gym Wednesday night, only to rally in the fourth to put away the visiting No. 11 Menlo-Atherton Bears 50-44 in the first round of the Division 2 NorCal girls basketball tournament.

With the win, the Vikings earn a trip to San Jose Saturday to take on No. 3 seed Valley Christian. Valley Christian beat No. 14 Arcata Wednesday night 75-56.

Early on, the Vikings gave no indication this would even be a game.

They ran out to a 10-0 lead before Bears coach Markisha Coleman called a timeout. Still, there was just 1:48 left in the first quarter when the Bears got their first points on a Greer Hoyem bucket.

It was not the last the Vikings would hear from Hoyem, the co-MVP of the Peninsula Athletic League along with teammate and fellow senior Carly McClanahan.

Hoyem had just three points in the first quarter, thanks in large part to the solid defense of Vikings senior Shayla Newman, who did a good job of swatting away interior passes to the taller Hoyem and calling for help when Hoyem tried to back her down.

The Vikings were up 16-5 after one quarter, but then went eerily quiet.

“We did hit a flat spot. We were stuck on 16 for a long time,” Vikings coach Darryl LaBlue said. “They just battled through it.

“I just think it’s the game sometimes; it’s not for lack of trying,” he said.

It was more likely the emergence of Hoyem.

The Bears center took off in the second quarter and brought her team with her.

She had eight points in the second quarter and 10 in the third to bring the Bears to a 34-32 lead as the third quarter ended. It was their first lead of the night.

Hoyem finished with a game-high 22 points.

“She’s the best post player we’ve gone against,” LaBlue said. “We knew we weren’t going to shut her down. She’s phenomenal.”

It was when the Bears found Greer inside and she backed the Vikings defense down, usually drawing a foul, that the Bears climbed back into the game.

When McClanahan hit a three at the buzzer that put the Bears up 34-32 after three quarters, it could have sunk the Vikings right then and there.

“When we came off the floor after the third quarter they could have quit right then. But I just encouraged them to dig in and try to find it,” LaBlue said of his team.

And they found it thanks in part to the fiery play of sophomore guard Ciarah Michalik.

Michalik finished with nine points — above her average of 6. 5 points per game — but it was her defense that rallied the Vikings.

Michalik was assigned the job of sticking on McClanahan, an outside shooter who, if she got hot, could have given breathing room for Hoyem. She never got hot, thanks to Michalik’s relentless defense. McClanahan finished with six points, well under her average.

“She just hounded her all game long,” LaBlue said. “As much energy as she put in on defense, she was the spark in that fourth quarter.”

Again, Michalik only had three points in the fourth quarter, but she was making steals, driving the length of the court, drawing fouls — she was infusing energy into the Vikings.

“I think that we definitely snapped out of it a lot and we just kept fighting,” she said.

Newman came into the game averaging 11 points for the Vikings, but was held to just four on Wednesday. Having to contend with Hoyem all night, Newman didn’t get her first basket until three minutes into the third quarter.

But per usual for the Vikings, the scoring was incredibly balanced.

Senior Grace Stelzner scored five of her seven points in the Vikings’ fourth-quarter rally and junior guard McKenzie Weinmann dropped in four of her 10 points in the last period to help the Vikings pull away.

Junior Ivy Lea finished with eight points; sophomore Ashleigh Barr and junior Trinity Hawkins both had six.

“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce in,” LaBlue said. “We had a couple of good looks underneath the basket that rolled out.

“To their credit, they kept with it,” LaBlue said. “That’s kind of what this team is. They just seem to play for each other.”

The Vikings earned a spot in the NorCal tournament by making it to the semifinal round of the North Coast Section tournament, where they were ousted by eventual Division 2 winner Bishop O’Dowd.

The Vikings came into Wednesday’s contest 24-7 overall and 11-3 in league to take second in the North Bay League.

“It’s going to take a big effort,” LaBlue said of facing the Warriors Saturday.

But for the moment, he just wanted to enjoy a victory in round one.

“I’m so proud of the kids,” LaBlue said. “I’m really happy for them.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at kerry.benefield @pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield.