Corsairs dig deep, rally late in exciting playoff opener

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – CR’s Bradley Willis

By Ray Hamill — Playing what could very well be their final game together on the North Coast, the College of the Redwoods sophomores turned in another thrilling performance in a come-from-behind 91-83 win over Diablo Valley to open the NorCal playoffs on Tuesday night.

The Corsairs trailed for much of the game, and every time they seemed to make a run the visitors would pull away again to lead by double digits.

The final six minutes, however, belonged to the Corsairs, who closed out the game on a 22-5 run to advance to Thursday’s second round.

“That was just an incredible example of the resiliency and the belief that these guys have in themselves,” head coach Ryan Bisio said. 

The four former Fortuna Huskies — Zac Claus, Drew Gillette, Bradley Willis and Donald Willis — who have been thrilling North Coast fans while playing together for the past several years, dug deep one more time to pull out this win in their final home game at CR.

And they got plenty of help from a trio of freshmen who stepped up big time in their playoff debut with the Corsairs, with Jon Nchekwube, Brandon Lucas and Brandon Johnson all instrumental in the win.

Lucas nailed three crucial 3-pointers, including back-to-back baskets midway through the second half to keep his team in touch, while Nchekwube was unstoppable in the paint late in the game.

“I thought Jon Nchekwube really took over down the stretch,” Bisio said of the Portland native, who scored a team-high 20 points, including 14 in the second half. “It seemed he delivered for us time and time again.”

Claus was outstanding once again directing traffic and also scored 19 points, including five 3s, and “each one of them came at a pivotal moment,” according to his coach.

Brandon Lucas

“The way that Zac is able to kind of manage us through such turbulence is so incredible,” Bisio said. “What a leader, and what a gift to have a guy like that on the floor.”

Gillette added 18 points, including four 3s, while Johnson chipped in 11 points.

Somewhat surprisingly, the visitors started the more impressive of the two teams and led by as many as 13 midway through the first half, thanks in large part to some pinpoint shooting from 3-point range and the Corsairs’ inability to find much rhythm.

“It felt like it wasn’t our night,” Bisio admitted. “I thought we didn’t have the competitive edge to start the game that Diablo Valley did.”

The Corsairs, however, began to find their feet at the defensive end and never allowed the deficit to get out of hand.

And that kept them in touch until they were able to make their late run, which was the result of a few factors, according to the coach.

“I thought it was a combination of things,” he said. “I think our incredible will started to take hold, and defensively we started being physical at the point of attack, and I also think fatigue started to get to them.”

The No. 14 Corsairs will now advance to the second round of the NorCal bracket and will play at No. 3 seed College of the Sequoias on Thursday night.

Zac Claus

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