Fourth-seeded Woodcreek begins state title chase

Timberwolves host Chico Thursday night
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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After a bye to open the tournament, the Woodcreek High boys basketball team hits the floor Thursday night to open the CIF State Division II Championship tournament. By virtue of its No. 4 seed in the Northern California bracket, Woodcreek (26-5) will host the contest against fifth seeded Chico (23-6), which handled No. 12 Alameda 69-57 in Tuesday's first round. The Timberwolves might have expected a higher seed, but they have used the disrespect card to major success before, and will look to do so again. "We are just so happy to have a home game and not have to play anyone from the SFL," said Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton. One advantage to Woodcreek is its opportunity to watch that Tuesday night game and get a sense of the team that will walk into its gym Thursday night. The Panthers do not have a significant post presence to counter 6-foot-11 center Mike Kurtz, but they do have a bunch of guys at about 6-3 who are very athletic. Junior forward Sterling Smith is the team's leading scorer and rebounder at 6-3, and 6-2 senior forward Andrew Perlinger is the second option on offense. Both players score in excess of 15 points per game. Based on the results, this appears to be a very talented No. 5 seed. "They are section champs (of the Northern Section), but somehow got a No. 5 seed," Pinkerton said. "They have five solid starters. At this point, no matter where people are from, they can play and we can't take anyone lightly. They beat Sheldon and barely lost to Franklin, two D-I playoff teams." The results against the two section finalists in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I tourney are impressive and tell the upside of this Chico team, but there is also a curious loss to the sixth-place team from the SFL, Nevada Union. For tonight, Pinkerton's team will be prepared for the best the Panthers have to offer, and it expects to be tested. "I think the bye helps us because we get to recharge our batteries both mentally and physically," Pinkerton said. "I think the kids have a goal to see how far they can go and they use the 2002-2003 team as inspiration. We talk of this as the fourth season - preseason, league, sections, and now NorCals. Everyone in this has a record of 0-0." The Timberwolves have refused to look past the team right in front of them all year long, but the winner of this game will advance to the NorCal semifinals Saturday night. That team will face either Sac-Joaquin Section semifinalist Fairfield or the top seed in the NorCal field, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose. Mitty was a bit of a surprise in the top position, as it lost three times to its Central Coast Section rival St. Francis of Mountain View, the No. 2 seed, before finally beating it in that section final. "You are going to face somebody that is really good before you can get back to Arco (for the NorCal final)," Pinkerton said. "Of the top four seeds, Mitty has the most losses. It's the playoffs - I bet a lot of people didn't think Mitty was going to beat St. Francis, but they did." That uncertainty is what drives Woodcreek as it prepares for each game one at a time. Thursday's battle tips at 7 p.m. in the Woodcreek gym. It will be broadcast live on radio by KAHI (950 AM).