By Ray Hamill — The Wildcats had to find a different way to win on Thursday night, as a memorable season rolls on.
And in the end that was all that mattered, as Ferndale held off a dangerous and athletic Stockton Christian team for a 67-65 win to advance to the final four of the NorCal Division-VI boys basketball tournament.
After closing out the regular season with just two wins in their final eight games, the Wildcats have turned their fortunes around in the postseason, where they have now won six of seven games and are the last remaining H-DNL team still playing.
And they’ve done it mostly with some stellar defense, allowing just 45.5 points a game coming into Thursday’s big showdown.
Against the Eagles, however, they had to rely on their offense, outscoring an offensively sound visiting team.
“I thought we played really hard, and fortunately we were able to put enough points on the scoreboard,” head coach Dan Albee said.
The challenge for the Cats was containing sensational Eagles guard Jay Araya, who came into the game averaging 25.3 points a game and finished with a game-high 40 points.
“We had a hard time stopping him,” Albee said of the outstanding junior. “He’s just a tremendous scorer.”
Fortunately for the Cats, they didn’t need to contain him any more than they did, and instead just outscored the visitors, with their own junior point guard leading the way.
Emmitt Albee had another outstanding game for the home team, finishing with 30 points, including five 3-pointers.
The young standout has been rock solid for the Cats all season and that continued on Thursday in what was a hard-fought and back-and-forth game.
The Ferndale players looked the more composed from the opening tip-off, but the visitors quickly settled down and opened up a six-point lead by the end of the first quarter.
The Cats answered right back with a 13-4 run to start the second quarter to lead by six themselves, with Jenner Christiansen pivotal in the surge after struggling early from the free-throw line.
The talented junior finished with 13 points, while teammate Javier Lopez chipped in 11, including nine in the first half.
The Cats held a one-point advantage at halftime, with the lead changing hands several times early in the third, before the home team began to take control again to lead by six going into the fourth.
Ferndale stretched the advantage to as many as eight on a couple of occasions in the final period, and pulled out to a 65-55 in the final minute.
But the visitors refused to go down easily, and that made for an exciting finish, as they outscored the home team 10-2 to close out the game.
The Cats, however, held on for the memorable win and pulled within two victories of a first-ever NorCal championship.
“We’re really happy and really proud of the boys and what they’ve done so far,” the head coach said.
Tristen Martin added seven points in the win, while Lane Branstetter finished with four points.
The 65 points Stockton scored were the second most the Cats have allowed all season and the most since South Fork scored 67 on them in mid January.
Saturday’s game is set for 6 p.m.