Redding Christian sophomore Drew Nelson-Crowell goes up for a shot against Jewish Community Saturday night in the CIF NorCal Regional Division VI semifinal at Foothill High School. Nelson-Crowell had a double-double in the 49-47 Lion victory. (Photo by Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)
PALO CEDRO – A little over a year ago, Drew Nelson-Crowell was cut from the Foothill freshman basketball team.
Now, the 6-foot-7 sophomore center is one win away from capturing a CIF Northern California championship.
Nelson-Crowell recorded a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Austin Larson scored dropped 24 points to lift No. 2 Redding Christian to a 49-47 victory over No. 3 Jewish Community of San Francisco Saturday night in the CIF NorCal Regional Division VI semifinals, presented by Redding Rancheria.
With less than 10 seconds left, Nelson-Crowell’s presence in the paint altered Martin Selyutin’s shot down low and muscled the defensive rebound away from him before being fouled with 1.1 on the clock. Nelson-Crowell knocked down the first free throw and missed the second and the Lions celebrated at the Cougars’ Palace of Foothill High to improve to 33-0.
“We’re out there for one another and when I got the rebound, I heard the crowd and everything and was like ‘we’re not going home,’” Nelson-Crowell said.
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Larson scored nine of his 24 points in the final period, seven to open the quarter. But none were bigger than his layup to put the Lions ahead one with 46.5 seconds left. Like he’s done all year, Larson delivered for Redding Christian to keep the perfect season alive.
“When Austin gets in that mood, there’s something about him,” Redding Christian coach Todd Dwyer said. “There’s a calming confidence and the guys feed off of it. He feels like he can’t be stopped and he takes over. It’s not me calling plays, it’s his will.”
As much as the Lions rely on Larson, he was pressing a little too much in the first half, Dwyer said. He faced a box-and-one, blanketed coverage on man-to-man defense and a zone, causing the Lions to struggle offensively in the first half. They trailed 24-16 at the break, quite low from a team averaging 70 points per game.
“He was settling for some outside shots early on and he shot so well this year that those usually go in,” Dwyer said.
Redding Christian (33-0) would trail by as many as 11 in the third with Jewish Community’s Moze Thurmgreene and Ethan Finestone knocking down perimeter shots.
But Nelson-Crowell capitalized on the size advantage in the paint, catching an inside feed for 2, and following Shane Harper’s tear drop with an and-1 play just before the end of the third to cut the deficit to four going into the final stanza.
“It’s awesome having a big guy because they weren’t that tall and we had the advantage there,” Larson said. “He told me he didn’t want this to be my last game and he’s pushing the entire season, not only just for me but himself so he can become a better basketball player.”
In the fourth quarter, Larson went to work. He buried a 3 to start the scoring and attacked with dribble penetration for a pair of layups to cap an 8-0 run and put the Lions ahead 38-37, their first lead since being up 3-2 two minutes into the game.
Jewish Community tied it at 42 on a 3 from Finestone and a deep jumper from Toby Holm, who finished with a team-best 21 points. But Nelson-Crowell bodied Holm in the post with power, spun and laid it in to tie it at 44.
“He’s been super motivated and eager to be great because he wants to be great,” Dwyer said of Nelson-Crowell. “He’s always working hard on post moves and being aggressive. Once he got going his confidence got better and then he was unstoppable and he feels like it.”
Aidan Swan’s 3 put Jewish Community ahead with just under 4 minutes to play but that would be the last points the Wolves would score.
Larson made both ends of a 1-and-1 to pull the Lions within one. The ensuing possession, Wyatt Hughes grabbed an offensive board to keep it alive and Larson drove in, hesitated and banked it in for the 48-47 lead with 46 seconds remaining.
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Redding Christian fouled Jewish Community with 19 seconds left, giving the Wolves the chance to hold for the last shot. Selyutin drove the baseline and ran into Nelson-Crowell but couldn’t get it to fall over the big man. The defensive rebound all but sealed it for the Lions, who head to Antioch on Tuesday to play top-seeded Cornerstone Christian – an 89-74 win over American Christian Academy – for the NorCal championship.
“We were ranked 11th before the season, no one expected us to do this,” said Nelson-Crowell. “To go 33-0 (and beat) a really good team, they deserve all of the respect…we put a lot of long nights in the gym and it paid off.”
#2 Redding Christian 49, #3 Jewish Community 47
Jewish Com. 14-10-13-10—47
Redding Chr. 10-6-17-16—49
#3 Jewish Community (21-7): Holm 21, Thurmgreene 15, Finestone 6, Swan 5.
#2 Redding Christian (33-0): Larson 24, Nelson-Crowell 17, Harper 4, Vickery 3, Black 1.
3-pointers—Jewish Com. 7 (Thurmgreene 5, Finestone 2); Redding Christian 4 (Larson 3, Vickery).
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