By Ray Hamill — You don’t win three straight conference championships without showing a little resilience.
The Corsairs did that and more on Saturday night, as they overcame a seven-point second-half deficit on the way to a 76-66 win over Consumnes River in front of a packed gymnasium at College of the Redwoods in the second round of the NorCal playoffs.
Trailing 59-52 midway through the second half, the CR men went on a 22-5 run to take control of the contest and set up a California Sweet 16 matchup at College of the Sequoias next Saturday.
Offensively, however, Redwoods failed to find much of a rhythm for the first three quarters of the game.
But when they needed it, and with their season on the line, the Corsairs found their touch and the Hawks had no answer.
John Nchekwube led Redwoods offensively with 20 points while former Arcata Tiger Kai Purcell helped spark the late surge and finished with 16 points.
“Kai Purcell saved our season tonight and he did it at both ends of the floor,” head coach Ryan Bisio said of the freshman forward. “He came to Redwoods for that exact moment and I’m so proud of him.”
He wasn’t the only hero for the Corsairs, with Nchekwube playing a pivotal role in the paint.
“He played a lot of minutes tonight and he played with a physicality,” the head coach said of the sophomore center, who has been nominated for the all-state team. “He just stayed on course and had the right answers for us.”
With the home crowd behind them, the CR men enjoyed the better of exchanges early in the game and led for much of the first half, opening up a nine-point gap midway through the period.
But the visitors grew into the game and battled back to take a one-point lead late in the half.
The second half was back and forth, with five lead changes in the reopening few minutes.
The Hawks, however, began to find their touch from 3-point range and nailed five baskets from downtown in the opening 10 minutes of the half to open up a 59-52 advantage.
“We just could not play with the right pacing,” Bisio said of the team’s offensive game. “We just could not find our tempo. But then, when our backs were to the wall, we came out and performed like we had it the whole time. It was a testament to these guys’ focus.”
In addition to Purcell and Nchekwube, three other CR players finished with double digits in scoring in what was a balanced offensive team performance.
Trey Neff added 14 points in the win, while Jett Cheong had 13 points and Tyson Neff 10.
The CR crowd and home atmosphere, which Bisio earlier this week described as “unlike anything else in the state,” certainly lived up to its reputation once again.
“I want to give a shoutout to the crowd,” the CR coach said after Saturday’s win. “I thought they were incredibly helpful, and what a way to send these guys back on the road.”
The Corsairs, who are seeded No. 6 in NorCal, will now turn their attention to No. 3 Sequoias and a trip to Visalia next Saturday night.
The Giants won their second round game on Saturday, beating San Mateo 90-57 to go to 26-3.
The Corsairs are also 26-3.
A victory next weekend will send the Corsairs on to the state Elite Eight tournament at West Hills-Leemore, which begins on March 9.