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Timberwolves survive Chico challenge

Bench, clutch shooting keys as Woodcreek moves to Northern California semifinals
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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Depth is such an incredible luxury for Woodcreek High boys basketball coach Burnel Pinkerton.

 

“If it’s not going well with one group, I can just go down and grab someone else,” Pinkerton said after Thursday night’s 72-62 win over Chico. “We have so many great players on this team. Our fresher legs may have made the difference in the fourth quarter.”

 

In the third quarter of the CIF Division II Basketball tournament Northern California quarterfinal contest with Chico, Pinkerton has one of those moments. When he went to the bench and tapped reserve guard Devin Murphy and backup forward Derek Anganes, he got just the boost his team needed.

 

“I am not worried about scoring points,” Murphy said. “My job is to bring energy. When I get one steal, I just want to get another one.”

 

While neither player came off the bench to score dozens of points, both changed the momentum with a high level of defensive effort and energy that took Chico out of its comfort zone and turned this contest back to the favor of the Timberwolves.

 

In addition to the defensive energy from the bench guys, Woodcreek’s ability to hit big shots and close out quarters carried them on this night against a talented team of Panthers. Ryan Milat drained a 3-pointer to close out the half, Nik Milani buried a trey to end the third period, and the team came up big at the free throw line down the stretch to pull this one out and move on to the NorCal semifinals.

 

“This team scared me,” Pinkerton said. “We saw them play on Tuesday and knew they were scary athletic. To be honest, I feel very luck to win this game.”

 

Milani, the senior leader of the Timberwolves came out on fire in the first quarter. After Chico pushed out to an early lead, the 6-foot-4 forward got his game going on the way to a 13-point first half.

 

“I don’t really look to score,” Milani said. “We were not scoring much in this game, so I needed to look for my shot a little more. Tonight I scored 26, but the great thing about this team is that one night it is me, another night it is Mike (Kurtz) and then another night Nik Stathopoulos will score 18 or 20 points. No one cares who scores as long as we score.”

 

Chico did not go away, as a trio of spectacular athletes kept coming at the Timberwolves. Kenneth McMillan (22 points), Andrew Perlinger (20 points) and Sterling Smith (11 points) kept putting together run after run and kept their team alive.

 

“Those guys are terrific athletes and they did not quit,” Pinkerton said. “This was a great win for our guys. We’ll take every win we can get.”

 

As late as the 1:30 point in the fourth period, Chico used a Perlinger bucket to pull within two at 64-62. Milat followed that with a drive and a free throw to put Woodcreek back up five. After a pair of misses by the Panthers, Stathopoulos pulled a huge rebound and set up Sondhi to get to the free throw line. Milat and Kurtz hit free throws down the stretch as the Timberwolves opened up the final advantage.

 

“It was hard to get back on defense against this team,” Milani said. “Mike had his hands full with their guy (Perlinger) who liked to post up, but would also run the floor.”

 

Milani’s 26 points and seven rebounds led the way for Woodcreek and Kurtz scored 18 while pulling down 12 boards and blocking four huge shots. Milat added 10 for the Timberwolves.

 

The Woodcreek Black Mob cheering section was as loud as ever all night long, almost willing their team to the big win, but now the Timberwolves (27-5) will head on the road for the NorCal semifinal in San Jose at 7 p.m. Saturday night against top-seeded Archbishop Mitty (21-9).

 

FYI:

The CIF Division II Tournament continues Saturday night with the semifinals in the Bay Area. Oakmont and Woodcreek, the top two teams in the Sierra Foothill League, are on the road to take on St. Francis of Mountain View and Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, two powerhouses of the Central Coast Section’s West Catholic League in battle for Northern California basketball supremacy.

Saturday’s NorCal D-II semifinals (tip time is 7 p.m.)

No. 6 Oakmont (24-7) at No. 2 St. Francis of Mountain View (28-3)

No. 4 Woodcreek (27-5) at No. 1 Archbishop Mitty of San Jose (21-9)

 NorCal championship game – 4 p.m. next Saturday  at Arco Arena

State championship game – 8 p.m. Friday March 26 at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield