Rio Lindo Adventist, Rincon Valley Christian prepare for NCS semifinal
Two confident local teams, and just one available spot in the North Coast Section Division 6 boys basketball final. The math dictates that tonight’s game at Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg should be an intense one. Just don’t expect any trash talk or stare-downs out of these squads.
“They’re actually really nice,” Rincon Valley Christian junior Robbie Leng said.
Rio Lindo coach Kevin Hardesty had a similar take. He recalls a crucial moment in the teams’ first meeting, at RVC on Jan. 21, when the officials huddled to get a call right and a few of the home-team Eagles players began to plead their case. “One of their players went up to our kid who had taken the shot and said, ‘Good job. We’re complaining to the refs, not to you,’” Hardesty noted.
They may be pleasant kids. But only one team will advance to face the winner of the Laytonville-California School for the Deaf game in this year’s D6 championship.
No. 2 Rio Lindo (27-2) is a higher seed than No. 3 Rincon Valley Christian (16-11) and gets a home game. Regardless, the matchup should be a whopper if the first installment is any indication.
Rio Lindo took a 15-1 record into that game while Rincon Valley Christian was a mere 8-7. The action followed the script for much of the evening.
“In that game we had a good little run in the third quarter and got up by 12, 15 points,” Hardesty said. “We usually put teams away at that point.”
This time, Spartans point guard Julien Boyd subbed out for a while and RVC quickly closed the gap in his absence. Much of the fourth quarter went back and forth, and the score was tied when Rio Lindo called timeout with seven seconds left. With two fouls to give, Eagles coach Ted Nelson told his players to make contact with Rio Lindo. Nelson insists they did just that, but didn’t get a whistle until a Spartan hit a basket and drew an “and-one” with a second and a half on the clock.
Leng’s desperation shot at the buzzer did not fall and the Spartans escaped with a 55-53 win. It was a brutal loss for RVC, but Nelson and his players insist it made them a better team.
“They realized, yeah, we can hang with these guys,” Nelson said.
And the Eagles have been on the upswing since then. The improvement started on defense. Nelson freely admits his team wasn’t so good on that end of the court early on.
By Feb. 11, RVC was taking on Petaluma, a much bigger school that would make the playoffs in Division 2, and holding the Trojans to 58 points in a narrow loss - without starting center Riley Bogue, who had rolled his ankle in practice.
“We played zone the whole game, 3-2; we’re typically a man (defense) team,” Nelson said. “And they really did a good job on the rotations, realizing that it’s a zone, but you’ve got to be guarding somebody. You can’t say, ‘OK, no one’s in my zone, I get the day off.’”
The Eagles have gotten better in less tangible ways, too. Their opponents from Rio Lindo have felt great chemistry throughout the season. That wasn’t necessarily the case at RVC. Again, things got better.
“Just playing together as a team,” junior Charlie Segale said, “instead of trying to do things individually.”
The RVC boys went through a coaching change this year, but it wasn’t a traumatic one. Their young ex-coach Darren Nelson (who played basketball at Maria Carrillo and Santa Rosa JC) stepped away to concentrate on his many duties at Santa Rosa Bible Church, and on his recent marriage. Taking his place was former assistant Ted Nelson, who also happens to be Darren’s father.
The Eagles rely on a core of seasoned players with multiple years of varsity experience. That includes starting point guard Willy Chung, a lightning-quick leaper who moved here from Taiwan at 15 and, after doing his research, chose Rincon Valley Christian partly for its basketball prowess.
Unlike a lot of small campuses, RVC has some height.
“They’re a lot bigger and longer than us,” Hardesty said. “We’re a small team. We have three guys starting who are under 6 feet. Our tallest guy is like 6-1. They have at least three players who are taller than that.”
What could make up the gap for Rio Lindo is the Spartans’ team speed.
“They have two really athletic guards,” Ted Nelson said, referring to dynamic dribblers and best friends Boyd and Koby Brown. “At least one of them, if not both, definitely has potential to play at the next level. … They push the ball in transition. They made too many layups on us, with guys not recovering to get back.”
Rincon Valley likes to gun the pace a bit, too. Nelson said they have a version of the Golden State Warriors’ smaller “Death Lineup,” in which Leng moves from forward to center. The Eagles can frequently outrun opponents. That’s unlikely to happen against Rio Lindo, though.
“A team that fast, it’s probably best to slow the ball down,” Segale said.
Again, a lot of it will come down to defense for RVC.
“They’re a really good driving team, primarily. They’re not gonna shoot a lot of threes,” Segale said. “So we’ve just got to learn to defend the drive.”
Unfortunately for the Eagles, their fan base is likely to be split in half tonight.
Several members of the boys team have sisters who play for RVC, and the top-seeded girls team hosts a semifinal game against El Sobrante Christian at the same time. (Both tip-offs are set for 7 p.m.) Meanwhile, at one of the few boarding schools in the North Bay, the Rio Lindo kids can simply walk across campus to the gym; the Spartans get great student-body support.
Still, Hardesty is expecting a tight contest. Maybe even the best game in the D6 playoffs.
“They’re a really good team. I think the winner of our game will win the whole thing,” the Rio Lindo coach said. “It’s fun to be local, but it would be even better if it was for the championship.”
You can reach staff writer Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.