By Ray Hamill — A determined Arcata Tigers team competed a league championship and Dick Niclai tournament double on Friday night, rolling to a comfortable 68-44 win over McKinleyville in the tournament championship game.
The Tigers came ready to play and quickly took control of the game to lead by double digits just a few minutes in, and they never looked back, stretching the advantage to 17 by halftime.
“I thought our composure and keeping our emotions in check, especially in the first half, was huge,” Arcata head coach Kellen Maynard said. “I think the guys knew the task at hand and they knew what was at stake.”
The league and Niclai double is the first for the program since 2017 and the victory was the Tigers 10th straight since losing their league opener to McKinleyville.
The ever-dangerous Brandon Bento-Jackson scored a game-high 17 points in the win, while teammate Kai Purcell followed his 32-point performance in Thursday’s semifinal with 13 points on Friday.
“Those two guys are our leaders and we go as they go,” Maynard said. “Last night Kai really set the tone and did well, and tonight Brandon set the tone.”
And he did so at both ends of the court, with the junior standout leading another big team defensive performance.
Senior Alex Jioras also was hugely influential in the win and capped a big couple of days with 12 points.
“He just goes out and plays defense,” Maynard said of Jioras. “He’s been phenomenal for us. He’s had such a great season.”
The Niclai championship comes just one week after the team clinched the Big 5.
“It’s just a culmination of the hard work and the guys buying in to what we’re trying to accomplish as a group,” Maynard said.
The head coach also paid tribute to former head coach Dusty Scofield, who helped build this team before stepping away during the past offseason.
“I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for him,” Maynard said. “He’s been nothing but a help to me.”
The Tigers, who improved to 23-3, will find out their North Coast Section playoff seed and opponent on Sunday, but Maynard says he expects a two or three seed.
Friday’s game was the fourth in eight days for a busy Panthers team, which had long road trips to play Del Norte on Tuesday and South Fork on Thursday just to reach the championship game.
“McKinleyville has had to battle for the last seven days,” Maynard said. “It’s no easy task and I give them credit for hanging in there.”
Cody Whitmer finished with a team-high 15 points for the Panthers, while teammate Jack Clancy added seven points.
The Mack boys, who are now 15-8, will also find out their playoff seed and opponent on Sunday.