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CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

Saturday (seedings in parentheses)

BOYS

Division 6

(1) Laytonville vs. (2) Cornerstone Christian, 5 p.m.

GIRLS

Division 3

(2) Cardinal Newman vs. (1) Salesian Prep at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, 3 p.m.

Division 6

(2) Laytonville at (1) Rincon Valley Christian, 7 p.m.

When the Laytonville girls and boys basketball teams line up in their respective North Coast Section championship games Saturday night, they have a chance at making double history.

Check that. The Warriors have had an historic season. A couple of times over, in fact.

Never before have all three Laytonville teams — the girls varsity, boys varsity and boys junior varsity (there is no girls JV team) — gone undefeated in North Central League III play. There’s more. A check of North Coast Section records shows that since 2003, no Laytonville girls or boys team has won a section title. In fact, in that same span, no Warriors girls or boys team has ever made it to the championship game.

That ends this weekend. On Saturday, both squads will take to the court to play for the NCS Division 6 banner.

“It’s all come together,” Laytonville High athletic director Sue Carberry said.

And it’s bringing the community together, too, school officials said.

“We played a doubleheader the other night and the gym was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. I saw real excitement from the community,” Carberry said. “A lot of our community has gone to school here, played here. They follow it.”

Principal Tim Henry said he gets stopped in the aisle at the grocery store.

“They are asking, ‘How did the game go last night?’” he said.

His usual answer? Pretty darned well.

The boys team is 25-4 overall and went 14-0 in league. They nabbed the No. 1 seed in the NCS tournament and — regardless of how it goes Saturday — are moving on to the NorCal regional tournament.

The girls are 24-3 overall and 14-0 in league and got the No. 2 seed. They, too, are going to NorCals.

Warriors basketball is the only game in town right now, literally. Not counting the Mock Trial team, basketball is the only sport the small school can support during the winter season, Henry said.

“It’s quality over quantity,” he said. “We’re a small school, even for our league.”

State statistics show Laytonville had 120 students last school year. Henry said this year’s enrollment is closer to 104.

Of the eight schools in the North Central III League, only Round Valley and Potter Valley have smaller enrollments. So when I asked Henry if the rest of the student body feels the excitement of the double playoff run, there was a small chuckle.

“There are 104 students, right? The kids feel it,” he said.

A look at the Warriors’ rosters and some quick math tell me that 17 percent of the Laytonville students play varsity basketball. So yeah, they’re feeling it.

“The whole town comes out,” girls coach Corey James said. “We are one big, happy family.”

When James says family, he means it. He has two daughters, sophomore guard Mercrea and and freshman guard Akeela, who suit up for the Warriors. Boys coach Josh Firks? His brother Joel coaches the JV team.

And the two head coaches have known each other since preschool and both played on league-champion Warriors teams in 1989 and 1990.

“That was the first time Laytonville had won in forever and we were pretty proud of that,” Firks said.

“It’s pretty wild,” Henry said of the coaching combination of two former teammates. “They’ll talk about it sometimes, but they are living for the now.”

And the now means Saturday night. But now also means building programs that will last. The boys are two-time NCL III champions, after bouncing back from a 4-14 league record in 2015-16. The girls were 10-11 last season and 6-7 in the NCL III to finish in the bottom half of league standings.

But this has been building.

Both Firks and James coach their respective club teams. Many of the kids on the high school roster have been playing for their coaches since elementary school.

“The coaches have coached them for so many years,” Carberry said. It’s summer ball and off season work, she said.

“To me, it’s kind of the perfect storm — in the good sense.”

And part of the puzzle is doing things together.

The boys and girls squads travel together, heading to the same tournaments and coordinating their schedules. Team dinners? It’s typically both teams.

“Spending time together helps the kids love each other,” Firks said. “I think they are more than a team. Having a relationship off the court only makes you better on it. They are not selfish. They will do everything team before individual.”

The boys will host No. 2 Cornerstone Christian of Antioch, which won the Small Schools Bridge League with a 10-1 record and 27-3 overall.

The girls travel south to take on defending Division 6 champion Rincon Valley Christian in the Eagles’ gym in Santa Rosa. The Eagles are 20-8 overall and finished 14-2 in the NCL II behind Sonoma Academy, which was knocked from the Division 5 bracket in the first round.

The Warriors want to do something historic while acknowledging that they already have.

“I try and tell the kids, ‘Guys, this isn’t something that is normal,’” Firks said. “We are trying to cherish the moment, keep them in the present. Looking back on it, they are going to realize how special it is. I know I am.”

I asked Firks what’s in the water this season. He just laughed.

“It’s good water,” he said. “And a lot of time and energy. It’s a special little group up in Laytonville.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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