By Ray Hamill — The Ferndale Wildcats are headed to the North Coast Section Division-VI championship game in boys basketball after upsetting the odds in thrilling fashion at No. 1 seed St. Bernard’s on Wednesday night.
In an epic fourth quarter between these two rivals, the No. 4 seeded Cats had to overcome deficits twice in the final 45 seconds, with senior Javier Lopez scoring the winning basket in the dying seconds.
The win not only sends the Ferndale boys on to Saturday’s section championship game against California School for the Deaf, but also ended an 11-game losing streak to their L4 rivals.
“I thought we played hard-nosed basketball,” said Ferndale head coach Dan Albee, who is going to an NCS decider in his first season in charge.
Defensively, the Wildcats did a good job containing influential St. Bernard’s senior Lane Thrap, holding him to just 18 points in what was a defensive game.
As you would expect from two rivals playing for the third time this season and two groups of players who know each other well, the game was intense and physical from the opening tip-off.
The Cats got off to a flying start but saw an early 11-point lead disappear as the home team rallied in the second half, tying the game in the final seconds of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was an instant classic, with both teams battling back and forth and some brilliant clutch play by each.
With 20 seconds remaining, Remy Campbell hit a pair of pressure free throws to give his team a one-point lead.
After a timeout, and with time winding down, Lopez capped a brilliant performance with the winning basket to send a large Ferndale crowd into wild celebrations.
“Early in the season he struggled against everybody,” Albee said of Lopez, who was held scoreless in both previous games against St. Bernard’s. “But to his credit he’s worked really hard. He’s always in the gym, working on his shooting, and he’s regained his confidence and he’s playing really well for us.”
Lopez, who scored in all four quarters, finished with a game-high 20 points.
Jenner Christiansen also had a big say in the win at both ends of the court, scoring eight points, including four big points in the fourth with the game in the balance.
“I thought he stepped up big for us tonight,” Albee said of Christiansen.
Emmitt Albee, who is enjoying an impressive season, also had eight points in the win, including a big 3-pointer in the fourth.
Garrett Christiansen also stepped up late with a pair of second-half 3s, each of which gave his team a big lift.
Tristen Martin aded four points in the win.
For St. Bernard’s, Remy Campbell had a big game, finishing with 12 points, while Will Omey had seven points and Owen Shanahan four.
“They came out ready to play and took it to us early,” St. Bernard’s head coach Steve Thrap said. “We battled like the warriors we are and got ourselves back into the game and gave ourselves a chance, and it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The crowd played a role, for both teams.
“It was awesome,” Dan Albee said of the Ferndale support. “It was like a home game almost for us. There must have been half of Ferndale there tonight.”
The Ferndale players, for their part, came ready to play, which in turn fueled the crowd’s energy early on.
“That helped us believe we could play with them, the fast start,” Dan Albee said. “But our guys were ready to play from the start.”
The Cats will now turn their attention towards Saturday night and California School for the Deaf.
“We’re excited we get the opportunity,” the head coach said. “We’ve got a few seniors that want to finish things strong.”
The NCS appearance will be the second this year for many of these players, who played in a football decider as well.
California School for the Deaf defeated South Fork 52-43 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
The St. Bernard’s players will now turn their attention towards next week’s NorCal tournament.
“We’ll get in the gym tomorrow and start preparing for state,” Steve Thrap said.