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Northern Section Basketball Finals preview

U-Prep's Trevor Jones (from left), Foothill's Josiah Palumbo, Enterprise's Mianna Saechao and West Valley's Madalynn Bassett leads their respective teams into the finals weekend. (Photos by Mike Daly & Fred Lucero)

By Saturday night, the Northern Section will crown 10 basketball champions – five girls teams and five boys – with games spread across two days at Butte and Shasta colleges.

The season began in December and could culminate for some teams March 13-14 at Sacramento’s Golden One Center. Like last year’s run by the Mount Shasta boys team, season-long dreams start with a league title, move to a section title and then advance as far as possible.

But for 10 teams, that dream continues this weekend. All playoff coverage is sponsored by Redding Rancheria.

We’ve broken down each division and gender with a primer to get you ready for two days of hoops heaven.

Division III Boys

Foothill’s Luke Lindsey is a key contributor for the top-seeded Cougars. (Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

No. 1 Foothill (25-4) vs. No. 3 Pleasant Valley (18-12)
4:15 p.m. Friday at Butte College

Cougars: Foothill has proven to be the most complete team in the Northern Section, led by senior point Josiah Palumbo. Luke Lindsey and Bekdoo Lewis are solid swing guard/forward contributors who can take over a game if they need to while the post is controlled by 6-foot-6 senior center Brandon McCracken and a strong 6-2 Nick Dore. Hunter Edwards can provide a perimeter threat and is pesky on defense. The Cougars have weapons all over and like to play fast but their calm composure is key to their winning ways.

Vikings: Just like Foothill, getting to the finals required PV to take down its rival in Chico — on the road. Also like the Cougars, the Vikings are in the finals for a fourth straight year, winning the past two. Tim Keating’s bunch, led by Jake Kremer and Aaron Gomez, can be dynamic especially in transition. But PV lost to Foothill in both meetings by 13 points. Will third time be the charm for the Vikings?

X-Factors: For Foothill, McCracken (7.4 ppg, 8 rpg) showed his potential last year in the section final against PV and has averaged 10 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two meetings this year. His size is hard to match up with. But Palumbo (13.1 ppg, 2.6 steals) has been the thorn in the Vikings side in the two meetings, dropping 22 and 26 points and the Vikings haven’t been able to contain him. For PV, Kremer (13.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is the deadly shooter Foothill needs to limit with the senior ranking second in the section with 77 3-pointers made this season.

Division III Girls

Enterprise High’s Mianna Saecaho has stepped up the past few weeks to help the Hornets to a possible repeat section championship. (Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

No. 1 Pleasant Valley (15-11) vs. No. 2 Enterprise (19-11)
2:30 p.m. Friday at Butte College

Vikings: Not as dominant as past Viking teams, the 2019-20 version took its lumps early with a heavy preseason schedule as PV didn’t climb over .500 until well into the Eastern Athletic League season. The Vikings fell to rival Chico and Shasta (which it beat in Tuesday’s semfinals) in league, but won both meetings with Enterprise to grab the league crown. PV is fueled offensively by junior Christiane Carlisle, the lone player in double figures with 11.8 per game. She’s a sharpshooter (33 percent from range) and not afraid to let it fly, firing off the winning 3-pointer against Shasta in the semis. Carlisle is joined by fellow juniors Shaley Vieg, Mallory Moore and Kylie Matthews, who all average better than 7 points per night.

Hornets: A year after carving up the Northern Section on the way to the NorCal finals, Enterprise has been nothing if resilient. The Hornets have battled through injuries all season — Abby Shoff only played eight games, Alissa Terras (10.8 ppg) has fought through ankle and wrist troubles — but have found a way to persevere. Senior Mianna Saechao (10.3 ppg), along with Kylie (7.6 ppg) and Natalie Mendes (9.5 ppg), have provided stability while youngsters like Heather Alexander have blossomed.

X-Factors: Both teams have historical success with Enterprise owning four titles in the past 10 years and PV also with four titles since 2013-14 (although two were before Division II was folded into Division III). The Vikings aren’t deep, but their starting five, including Cassidy King, can shoot and get after it on the defensive end. For Enterprise, Jacey Whetstone provided tough minutes in the semifinal comeback over Chico, while Alexander, Saechao and Kylie Mendes took over down the stretch.

Division IV Boys

Logan Hawes can play both inside and out on the perimeter for U-Prep and averages 12 points and 8 rebounds per game. (Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

No. 1 U-Prep (22-8) vs. No. 2 Pierce (25-3)
12:45 p.m. Saturday at Shasta College

Panthers: After a disappointing end to his sophomore season with a broken arm, Tanner Stephens has stepped into the leadership role averaging a team-high 13.6 points per night with 7 boards too boot. But it’s far from a one-man show as seniors Logan Hawes (12.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Trevor Jones (11.5 ppg) make opponents pick their poison on who to stop. Adding in the emergence of guard Aiden Lipman (8 ppg) into a threat and the non-stop energy of Kevin Cox, one of the most tireless defenders in the section, and the Panthers could be poised for a repeat section title.

Bears: A trio of battle-tested juniors lead Pierce this season. Justin Mathews (15 ppg), Eduardo Paiz (11.3 ppg) and Alex High (11.1 ppg) all played a role in Pierce’s 22-9 2018-19 season. The Bears have won 21 of their last 22, with a Jan. 17 83-54 loss to Piedmont (North Coast Section). Pierce allows 47 points per game while the 6-4 High is a monster on the boards with 8.1 per night.

X-Factors: U-Prep ended the Bears’ season last year with a 55-47 semifinal win en route to the school’s first boys basketball crown. Mathews again leads Pierce in scoring after doing so as a sophomore last season. Daniel Medina offers senior calm for the Bears at point. For U-Prep, Hawes has dropped double digits in six of the last eight games and Stephens has averaged better than 14 points per night in that span. Cox is a lockdown defender and Jones has the ability to get hot.

Division IV Girls

West Valley’s Madalynn Bassett is the leading scoring for the No. 2 seeded Eagles against U-Prep in the D-IV final. (T.J. Holmes/Shasta County Sports)

No. 2 West Valley (22-8) vs. No. 5 U-Prep (20-10)
11 a.m. Saturday at Shasta College

Eagles: Leading scorer Madalynn Bassett is the presumptive favorite to win the Northern Athletic League MVP. The sophomore guard is deadly from range and joins Jasee Heacock and Maddie Steele to make a formidable backcourt. But West Valley’s depth and strength comes in the post where it can deploy four centers in Rose Matthews, Lexi Proscher, Arika Baxter or Kendall Brown to overpower smaller opponents, such as U-Prep. The Eagles are in the finals for the first time since 2014 and looking for their first section title since 2013.

Panthers: Kaelia Mizuta is on a tear recently, averaging 18.6 points over her last five games. Joining Mizuta (10.5 ppg) are sophomores Jordan McCoy and Melanie Lindsey (10.5 ppg) who all average in double figures every night. Ashlee Kraft (4.9 ppg) is another role player who plays strong on defense and is fearless while attacking the rim and Kylie Hokanson (7.0 ppg) can hit timely shots from deep. The Panthers, who are in the finals for the first time since 2017, can be exploited with their lack of height but make up for it with their hustle on defense and basketball IQ to be a pesky out. After all, the Panthers enter the finals 11-3 in their past 14 — two losses to West Valley — and are vying for their first section title since 2016.

X-Factors: West Valley’s Hannah Wayne is constant energy and does all the dirty work to fuel an Eagle surge. She’s not afraid to sacrifice her body and her all-out hustle and effort gives West Valley the extra couple of possessions or makes life difficult for opponents. For U-Prep, McCoy (11.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg) was a first-team all-Shasta County pick last year and has showed glimpses, despite playing with labrum issues, where she can take over. She’s not afraid to go to the rim and can be the difference maker on both ends of the floor.

Division V Boys

No. 1 East Nicolaus (20-8) vs. No. 3 Mount Shasta (18-9)
7:45 p.m. Friday at Butte College

Spartans: Seniors David Earhart (22.6 ppg) and Gavin McAuliff (10.5 ppg) lead East Nic. The Spartans needed a 30-foot buzzer-beater from Earhart on Wednesday to beat Durham 43-40 and send them to their first section title game since 2009.

Bears: After the phenomenal run last season to the CIF State title game, Mount Shasta returns to the section finals with a new coach in Chris Galarsa and without the Riccomini twins. Instead, sophomore Darius Smith has emerged as the Bears’ go-to with 12.1 ppg and juniors Anthony Pigoni (8.6 ppg) and DJ Brown (7.6 ppg) the next leading scorers.

X-Factors: East Nic’s two seniors are no strangers to a big postseason stage, having played for the Spartans’ football team that’s a perennial NorCal entrant. Most of the Bears’ generational team might’ve graduated, but you have to think they magical run to the state finals left an impression of how to be great on the younger players.

Division V Girls

No. 1 Portola (28-3) vs. No. 2 Durham (19-6)
6 p.m. Friday at Butte College

Tigers: Seniors Margaret Canseco and Emily Sheridan lead the Portola squad that sliced through Mountain Valley league play unblemished. Canseco averages 15. 6 per night, while Sheridan drops better than 11 per game.

Trojans: Junior Karena Bryant is the leading scorer with 12.4 points per night as Durham went 8-1 and won the Mid-Valley League title.

X-Factors: For Portola, junior Sophia Ward is a sharpshooter with 51 3-pointers on the season. Senior Alison Smith controls the paint for Durham, averaging eight rebounds per night while adding 7.1 points per contest.

Division VI Boys

Fall River’s Ryan Osborne leads the Bulldogs in scoring. (Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

No. 3 Fall River (23-5) vs. No. 4 Weed (20-4)
7:45 p.m. Saturday at Shasta College

Cougars: A win Saturday would mark Weed’s first section title since the George H.W. Bush era (1989). The Cougars are fueled by Grant Lane, a 6-5 post with a unrelenting motor and ability to bang low and defend on the perimeter. He’s averaging 17.5 points and 11 rebounds per night and was a dominant factor in the Cougars’ semifinal win over Redding Christian on Wednesday. Fellow senior Tripp Rodriguez (14 ppg) is a floor general and the Cougars have a senior-heavy rotation that can go eight deep.

Bulldogs: Fall River looks to pull off the Daily Double of football and basketball titles as Ryan Osborne (11.3 ppg), Timmy Westlund (11 ppg) and Royce Knoch (10 ppg) all played a major role in the grid iron crown. Scott Gallion’s crew is riding a six-game win streak since falling in back-to-back games against upper-division foes Yreka and Mount Shasta.

X-Factors: As dominant as Lane can be, brother Dallas Lane is also a 6-5 player who has the ability to hit from range. Jivarqua Jordan-Foster and Tommy Pineda are also offensive threats. The Bulldogs won the Shasta Cascade League title, beating Weed twice in league though the Cougars did earn a 46-43 win at the Block F Tournament. The last Fall River section basketball title came in 2016-17 with a 85-26 thrashing of Liberty Christian. The Bulldogs fell to 70-59  Weed last year in the D-VI quarterfinals.

Division VI Girls

Redding Christian’s Sadie Alexander is hoping to lead the Lions to back-to-back section titles. (Maddie Harrell/Shasta County Sports)

No. 1 Redding Christian (20-5) vs. No. 2 Fall River (22-4)
6 p.m. Saturday at Shasta College

Lions: There might not be a hotter team entering the finals than Redding Christian, which has lost only once since the calendar flipped to 2020 — and that was to a Willows squad that held strong as the top girls team in the Northern Section Power Rankings for the second half of the season. Along the 14-game winning streak included a 51-38 home win against finals opponent Fall River. The Lions are back in the finals to defend their first girls basketball championship after beating Etna last year in overtime and practically has the entire team back. Four-year varsity starter Sadie Alexander (11.8 ppg, 3.1 spg) runs the show, can hit from deep and takes on the toughest defensive assignment every game. Combing her with leading scorer Aleah Matos (11.5 ppg), dominant post Sammie Wunner (9.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) controlling the paint, and the speedy Courtney Jones (5.3 apg, 3.6 spg) — who might be the most underrated player of the finals weekend — and Redding Christian sure has a lot of weapons to choose from. Not to mention freshman Bailey Matos (7.3 ppg) is playing above her years and Kaylee Jones (3.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) never slows down with her all-out effort.

Bulldogs: Just like the Lions, Fall River is surging into finals weekend with 13 straight wins since the loss to Redding Christian. The Shasta Cascade League champs are in the finals for the third time in four years since dropping to D-VI in 2016-17. Senior Marissa Leighton (12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) was a solid contributor during their last section title run in 2018 and is back to lead the Bulldogs with 86 games of varsity experience. After Leighton it’s a balanced offense with five players — Myah Gallion, Lexi Robbins, Ciena Greggory, Rylee Pevehouse and Natalie Osborne — averaging at least five points across the Bulldogs’ 26 games. Fall River is the highest scoring team in Shasta County at 52.7 points per game and pitting that offense against the defensive-focused Lions is a chess match any basketball fan should enjoy.

X-Factors: Aleah Matos hit the big shot last year to send the final to OT but Wunner took over in the extra period. Their experience plays a big part but Courtney Jones’ athleticism, quickness and court awareness to find the open teammate is unmatched in the county. For Fall River needs as much balance on scoring early so Redding Christian can’t key on Leighton inside. Solve that and the rest of the floor opens up to exploit mismatches and work the ball to wherever the Bulldogs want.

Division VII Boys

No. 2 Big Valley (17-8) vs. No. 5 Butte Valley (15-12)
4:15 p.m. Saturday at Shasta College

Cardinals: The Cardinals performed a tremendous turnaround from a 2-19 season in 2018-19. Yamir Moya leads the way with 10.4 ppg while sophomore Kendell Gerig averages 9.6 per night.

Bulldogs: Junior Brandon Hensley (15.9 ppg) and sophomore Wyatt Faivre (9.4 ppg) are Butte Valley’s leading scorers.  The Bulldogs had four players (Faivre, Hensley, Gilberto Tapia and Trevor Allen) in double figures in their semifinal upset of No. 1 Hayfork.

X-Factors: Big Valley 2-1 against Bulldogs with wins on Dec. 17 and Dec. 21 and a 45-40 loss on Jan. 7 The Cardinals have four more players (Argenis Moya, Vladimir Rodriguez, Kyle Lemke and Riley Mitchell) averaging more than 5 points per game. Butte Valley is the reigning D-VII champion and has played in four straight title games.

Division VII Girls

No. 2 Mercy (16-9) vs. No. 4 Butte Valley (14-11)
2:30 p.m. Saturday at Shasta College

Warriors: Jaime Kuchle leads with 15 points per night but it was Anika Stickney’s 13 points and Elizabeth Carlos adding 12 in the 44-38 win over Hayfork that sent Mercy to the finals, their first since a 2013-14 loss to Westwood.

Bulldogs: sophomore Kendra Chadwell leads Butte Valley with 11.2 points per night and junior McKenzie Anderson adds 10.9 as the Bulldogs looks for the boys-girls title doubleheader.

X-Factors: The Warriors started out 0-3, but are riding a three-game win streak entering the finals. Butte Valley lost last year’s section semifinals 51-35 to eventual champion Surprise Valley.

Staff Reports is content produced by the Shasta County Sports team.

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