Wildcat doubleheaders highlight NCS basketball playoffs; Cats one win from Division 6 title game

Mark Lourenzo

Beacon Correspondent

To the delight of local basketball fans, North Coast Section basketball playoff doubleheaders have taken center stage, as the Ferndale Wildcats seek a section championship in both the boys and girls divisions. The Wildcats, as well as the St. Bernard's Crusaders, played host to a girls-boys double header against Division 6 foes on Feb. 23. All four local teams advanced with home court wins and a Wildcat versus Crusader showdown was on tap Feb. 27 -- just past the Beacon's print deadline -- in the boys division while the No. 1 seeded Ferndale Lady Cats were set to host No. 4 Tomales that same evening. It all wraps up this weekend as a champion will be crowned. Ferndale fans are hoping for one more doubleheader this Saturday. It would take double wins on Wednesday and an upset in the boys division. No. 1 seed Rincon Valley Christian sits in the driver's seat on the opposite side of the bracket and a semifinal win by them would mean a road trip by an H-DN team for the title contest.

The Lady Cats opened the NCS Division 6 playoffs in strong fashion. The Wildcats dominated the visiting No. 8 Anderson Valley Panthers for three out of four quarters and sailed to a 56-26 win in that quarterfinal game. Ferndale jumped to a 18-4 lead by the end of the first period and the outcome was never in doubt, despite a solid defensive effort midgame by the Panthers. Anderson Valley started slowly after their long road trip north and Ferndale was paced by Meagan Earley's 10 points in the opening quarter. Earley would go on to score exactly half of the total Wildcat output. Her 28 points was easily a game high.

"Yeah, I was kind of feeling it tonight and the end of the game was a lot of fun," said Earley postgame after scorching the nets both early in the first quarter as well as the final period. Kendra Losa scored 9 points and Maci Branstetter added 7 to the effort. Though the game got a little sloppy in the middle, the Cats finished strong by outscoring the opponents by 14 points in the final period.

"We don't do well with a lot of days off, but at least we were well rested," said winning Ferndale coach Kristie Christiansen after the game. "We started well but then it took us a while to get going again, the bench played well for us, actually everybody played well."

Though the Wildcats saw their intensity drop off in the middle of the contest, the girls were able to kick it back up and put away the Panthers. Midweek the Cats were set to host No. 4 seed Tomales, which come in with a record of 19-10. If the Lady Cats want to repeat as NCS Division 6 champions, it will take more of that great defense and a win over Tomales just to get the chance to host the title tilt.

The Ferndale Wildcats boys team gave their fans a good scare Feb. 23 in their quarterfinal game on home court. The Wildcats had several days since their last live game action and were a little flat out of the gate. To their credit, the opposing No. 7 seeded Summerfield Waldorf played an exceptional game on both ends of the floor and came close to upsetting the No. 2 seeded Wildcats. Ferndale held a modest lead through most of the game however, Summerfield took a 4 point lead into the final quarter and the game looked in doubt, until a second effort by the Cats resulted in the 50-45 victory.

Ferndale center Hunter Van Emmerik once again led the team in scoring with his 15 points. Chris Catana added 13 points as his all-around game continues to improve at the end of the season. Justin Lang and Wyatt Standley each added 7 points to the victorious effort. Every member of the Wildcats team that logged minutes provided a spark at some point of the game, included the aforementioned group, as well as Ike Townsend and Jacoby Hughes. Though a lot of shots did not go down for him in the first three periods, Ferndale's Hunter Van Emmerik skied for rebounds when the game was on the line and scored back to back field goals in the final minutes. Wyatt Standley came off the bench and provided a spark in the final minutes with a steal, assist and free throws.

"It is my senior season and my second wind kicked in. I did not want to lose in our first round game tonight," preached Van Emmerik after the game. Indeed the Cats came up with one final push to win it late. Wednesday that senior season would be once again on the line as Ferndale played host to the No. 3 seeded St. Bernard's Crusaders. The two local rivals have met three times this season with the Wildcats taking two of the three games. However, all of those games were close and the Crusaders would like nothing more than to knock off the Cats on their home floor, then move on to the championship game themselves. If Ferndale has the defensive intensity we saw in the Fortuna game two weeks ago and can put the ball in the basket, then the championship will be within their grasp.

Photos by Mark Lourenzo/Beacon

1. Ferndale playmaker Meagan Earley drives to the basket with an Anderson Valley defender giving chase in the North Coast Section Division 6 playoff game Feb. 23 in Ferndale. Earley was on fire in the contest and scored 28 points in the Lady Cats' 56-26 victory over the Panthers. The Wildcats moved on to the semifinals and were set to host Tomales on Wednesday evening for a berth in the championship game.

2. Fortuna's Ryan Gilroy (left) goes up strong for two points as the Huskies hosted the McKinleyville Panthers on Feb. 20 in the opening round of the North Coast Section basketball playoffs. Gilroy provided a spark with his 10 points and Nate Ambrosini (right) scored a team high 15 points, but the Huskies were on the wrong side of a 58-49 final score and Fortuna was bounced out of the postseason by their local rivals.