Having trailed since the 2:16 mark in the first quarter, the Redding Christian boys basketball team seemed to finally have the break it needed when Weed’s 6-foot-5 center Grant Lane picked up his fourth foul late in the third period.
The Cougars were up 37-34 and Lane had spent the evening scoring 12 points on hard-fought paint buckets, pulling down monster boards and keeping the Lions’ big fella, Andrew Nelson-Crowell in check – if you call keeping him to 17 points in check.
When Lane was whistled for the personal on Nelson-Crowell, Cougars coach Robert West had no choice but to sit him. And it appeared as though that might be the crack the Lions needed to earn a return trip to the Northern Section Division VI finals on Saturday. All postseason coverage is presented by Redding Rancheria.
Instead, the Weed defense stiffened, holding Nelson-Crowell scoreless in the fourth as the fourth-seeded Cougars pulled off the 52-42 upset over the top-seeded Lions on Wednesday to make their first trip to the finals since 1989. The Cougars play No. 2 Fall River in the D-VI finals at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at Shasta College.
“Our game plan from the beginning was to make every shot (of theirs) tough,” Weed coach Robert West said. “I knew when Grant went out that one of our guys like Tripp Rodriguez or Tommy Pineda had to step up and make a play and work on the big man.
“You know he’s tough to stop and if you don’t front him with backside help, he’s going to eat you and backside help kind of tightened up as well down the stretch.”
West credited College of the Siskiyous women’s coach Tom Powers for planting the idea of a 1-2-2 zone on the Lions with the Lanes bracketing Nelson-Crowell on the block.
The bracket made entry passes difficult and gave the Cougars an edge when the Lions weren’t particuarly sharp from the perimeter.
“He (Powers) gave us that and it worked,” West said. “We hang out hat on our defense”
Instead of being able to attack the paint without the omnipresent Lane disrupting things – although to be fair 6-5 brother Dallas Lane was still in the game – the Lions missed their final two field goal attempts of the third quarter and hit 2-of-5 free throws to trail 37-36 entering the final eight minutes.
“We liked our chances,” Redding Christian coach Todd Dwyer said about attacking Weed without Grant Lane in the game. “They played a great game and caused a lot of our trouble.
“Our shooting wasn’t there tonight, which made it challenging.”
The No. 1 seed took a 38-37 lead seconds into the fourth as Ty Vickery hit both ends of the one-and-one, but it was short-lived as sophomore Pineda hit 3-of-4 freebies to give the Cougars the lead back – an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish as Weed closed the game on a 12-4 run.
Along the way, Redding Christian committed seven turnovers and missed eight of its last nine field goal attempts en route to a four-point period.
“We’ve seen a lot of zone, but not a lot of zones with two big guys,” Dwyer said. “Add on that we weren’t shooting well and that allowed them to double even harder.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars were showing they had guys that could step up without the low-post presence of Grant Lane. After Pineda’s free throws, Rodriguez hit a 12-footer in the lane and Dallas Lane pured a 3-pointer midway through the period to put Weed up 47-38. Angel Nicholas then scored on an easy look on an inbounds play to go up 11.
“I’m pretty lucky to have about and eight-man rotation that can score the ball,” West said. “I wasn’t really worried about scoring the ball as much as I was guarding that big guy.
“When we move the ball on offense, we’re talented. When we get stagnant, we struggle.”
And despite Weed missing the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones, the Lions could capitalize as a turnover, missed 15-footer and made Vickery bucket was all Redding Christian could muster from those chances.
The Weed coach said his grandfather used to coach the school the last time the Cougars made the section finals 31 years ago – a 50-48 win over Quincy – and that his team had been talking about it all week.
“It was hard to get comfortable until that last minute,” West said.
Weed – 14-12-11-15 – 52
Redding Christian – 12-7-17-6 – 42
No. 4 Cougars (20-4) – Nicholas 2, Pineda 3, Rodriguez 9, G. Lane 12, D. Lane 13, Foster 13.
No. 1 Lions (25-4) – Matos 2, Lindsey 2, Black 7, Vickery 14, Nelson-Crowell 17
3-pointers – WHS – 5: Foster (3), D. Lane (3); RC – 1: Vickery
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