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Hayward up next for Thunder

Thunder beat Fairfield to claim DII section title
By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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Rocklin High beat visiting Pleasant Valley 71-57 Tuesday night and the Thunder will now host Hayward at 7 p.m. Thursday as the NorCal playoffs continue. The winner of the Rocklin (30-2) – Hayward (21-8) game will advance to Arco Arena on Saturday to play in the NorCal finals at 4 p.m. The winner of that game will play for the state championship at Arco Arena at 8 p.m. on March 20. Rocklin won this first-round NorCal game last year as well but lost its next game against visiting Fairfield. The Thunder have never advanced to the NorCal finals in the history of the school. “(Hayward) is a big, athletic team and they have a 6-foot-8 guy,” said Rocklin 6-10 center Brendan Lane. Lane scored 19 points in Tuesday night’s victory over Pleasant Valley while teammates Jackson Cummings (10 points), Anthony Romero (nine), Joel Day (nine), Pat Stover (eight) and Tony Williams (seven) also chipped in offensively. Day, Romero and Cummings combined to make seven 3-pointers. Senior forward Mycal Swaim scored 15 points to lead Pleasant Valley. Rocklin led 21-15 after the first quarter and 41-31 at the half before outscoring the Vikings 21-11 in the third. Rocklin led by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter. “We weren’t rotating very well (on defense in the first half) but we liked the tempo,” Stover said. “We were lackadaisical at practice yesterday and we’ll set it straight. It won’t happen again.” Pleasant Valley was physical with the Thunder. “Be more physical (is what Rocklin learned from this game),” Lane said. “The refs let a lot go and we have to be more physical.” Rocklin topped Fairfield on Saturday night at Arco Arena to win the Division II, Sac-Joaquin Section title. Thunder coach Steve Taylor thought there might have been a let down Tuesday night. “We thought (Pleasant Valley) would be tough and physical and they were . . . We were a little flat,” Taylor said. “You hope not but there is a little natural (let down) – you are on such a high and then you have to get right back at it . . . We just need to get back down to work and prepare.” Rocklin 60, Fairfield 56 The top-seeded Thunder repeated as DII champions Saturday night at Arco Arena, beating No. 2 Fairfield. Fairfield advanced to NorCal play as well and any loss ends the season for each team from here on out. The Thunder also beat Fairfield 44-43 in the DII finals a year ago and Taylor had a pretty good idea that it would be the same two teams playing for the title again this year. “We have seen them five or six times (this year), having a coach there (scouting Fairfield),” Taylor said. “We really felt it would come down to them.” Last year Rocklin and Fairfield played in the second-round of the NorCal tournament with the Falcons winning on a 30-foot heave as the final buzzer sounded. Fairfield also beat Rocklin 70-67 in a tournament game at De La Salle in December. Rocklin is 2-2 against Fairfield over the last two seasons and 58-3 against everyone else. Fairfield won at Chico 56-53 Tuesday and will play at St. Francis of Mountain View on Thursday night, the winner advancing to Saturday’s game at Arco Arena. Taylor compared this DII title to the squad that won last year. “This year was probably a little more challenging – we didn’t sneak up on anybody,” Taylor said. “A lesser team would have let down at some point and got upset.” Lane, bound for UCLA, had 23 points and six rebounds while making 11-of-17 shots. He played all but 46 seconds. “We knew with our talent that if we just went out and played hard and played good defense – we knew we would get here (championship game),” Lane said. “(Fairfield is) just a tough team and we match-up well with them.” Fairfield (25-7) jumped ahead 11-2 and maintained a small lead through the first three quarters, leading 43-41 entering the fourth. Rocklin took its second lead of the game (45-43), and the first since leading 2-0, when senior Mads Frandsen scored on a turnaround jumper with 7:20 left. Rocklin led by two or four points for most of the fourth quarter until Fairfield’s Keith Welch tied the game at 56 with a free throw with 1:38 left. Stover, a senior, then made his only field goal of the game count in a big way. Stover sunk a 15-footer with 1:10 left to put Rocklin up 58-56. He finished with three points and seven rebounds. Stover also had an offensive rebound with just under 10 seconds left and Cummings was fouled with 5.2 seconds left. Cummings made both free throws, his only points of the game, to put Rocklin up 60-56. “I just wanted to do anything I could to help our team go out and get a win,” said Stover about his shot that put Rocklin ahead for good. Rocklin senior guard Zack Moss played 12 minutes off the bench, collecting 12 points, four rebounds and one steal. He made 5-of-6 shots from the field and scored seven of his 12 points in the second quarter. “I was just hoping my number would get called and it got called,” Moss said. “I just wanted to provide some energy. Whatever is best for the team . . . I was starting early on in the season and my role dropped and I knew I could provide a spark and some energy . . . I took advantage of the situation.” “We knew Zack was going to play a lot (in this game) – we knew this was the kind of game where he can be effective,” Taylor said. “(Different guys step up every night) and tonight it was Zack Moss coming off the bench.” Frandsen, a 6-8 post player who came to Rocklin from Denmark for his senior year, was fired up. He usually comes off the bench but he started both halves for the Thunder on Saturday night and was solid (nine points, nine rebounds, 21 minutes). “It was a great experience and I’m about to party tonight,” Frandsen said. “You and me (talking to Taylor) are about to go out.” Fairfield (25-7) senior John Dickson, 6-5 and bound for Sacramento State, had 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and a block shot to lead the Falcons. Rocklin 67, Wood 57 The Thunder advanced to the DII finals by beating No. 5 Wood of Vacaville 67-57 on March 5 at Arco Arena. “We’ve had a lot of pressure and expectations and sometimes it’s harder that way . . . but everyone has responded,” Taylor said. “This (the win over Wood) was a great first game for some of the kids – the guys that had never (played at Arco Arena) before.” Lane (19 points, eight rebounds, three block shots) and Cody Kale (17 points, eight rebounds, four assists) led the Thunder. Rocklin led 45-43 entering the fourth quarter and Kale scored 11 points over that final eight minutes. He made all five of his free throws in the final quarter. “I was really getting to the rack in the fourth and trying to be extremely aggressive. And I knocked down my free throws,” Kale said. “It’s (playing at Arco Arena) a lot different – the atmosphere is crazy.” Wood took its first lead since the opening quarter when Mike McChristian scored with 6:30 left to put his team up 50-49. Kale responded by drawing fouls on Rocklin’s next two possessions and draining four free throws. He then passed to Lane for a dunk to put Rocklin up 55-52 with 4:15 left. Kale also scored on a lay-up with 2:06 left and converted a 3-point play to set the final score with 34 seconds left. “(Kale) has been good in the clutch all year,” Taylor said. “He was not nervous – he had fun.” Rocklin led 19-14 after the first quarter and 37-31 at the half but was limited to just eight points in the third quarter. “They are a physical team and we knew it would be a challenge,” Taylor said. “They challenged us inside and their strength makes up for their (lack of) size.” Stover (nine points, five rebounds) and Frandsen (six points, six rebounds) each played well inside for the Thunder while Williams and Romero scored six points each.