Placer primed for a title run

Hillmen host seven solid squads as they seek their first Kendall crown since 2004
By: Todd Mordhorst & Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Staff
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Mark Lee buzzed around Earl Crabbe Gym Tuesday, preparing the iconic gym for its annual showcase that brings Placer High alumni back to campus and draws hoops fans from miles around.
The Placer coach posted Kendall Arnett Tournament brackets around the building and was constantly reminded of strength of the field at the oldest ongoing high school basketball tournament in the state. The Hillmen will host seven balanced, evenly matched squads, all within 30 miles of Auburn.
“It’s definitely a tough field,” Lee said. “Keeping it local is part of the tradition and it keeps fans coming back too. The alumni have always come back and the people of Auburn have come out and supported the tournament through the years. ‘I’ll see you at the Kendall,’ is the saying around Auburn this time of year.”
Lee is wary of every team in the 70-year-old tournament, including San Juan, which the Hillmen will meet at 8 p.m. tonight.
Earlier this month at the Antelope Classic, Placer (9-3) defeated San Juan 51-43. But Lee said the Spartans’ Lincoln Gallegos and Kevin Daniels create problems for his team.
The Hillmen have shown great promise throughout the non-league schedule, including a quality 62-48 win over Casa Roble last week in Orangevale.
Lee said his team must minimize mistakes to advance to Thursday’s semifinal, where the Hillmen would face either Woodcreek or Casa Roble.
“We have to eliminate turnovers and we’re getting better,” Lee said. “We’re a work in progress, but we’re getting more confident.”
Senior Cody Riggs has earned all-tournament honors at three different tournaments this season while junior Isaiah Pineiro has shown vast improvement in the post. Senior Alec Knox is a steady inside presence at 6-4. Junior Peter Kean is a defensive stopper and senior Michael Wiebelhaus adds energy and basketball smarts to the starting lineup.
Placer will be without starting forward Alec Knox for Thursday and Friday’s games. The senior will be in his brother’s wedding in southern California and will not be available for the final two days of the Kendall.
Bear River (6-5)
The Bruins have never won the Kendall Arnett Tournament, so when asked what it would take to bring home a title Bear River coach Duwaine Ganskie laughed before he provided a succinct answer.
“History,” he said. “Bear River has never won it. Every time we enter we go in there with that goal and try to be first team to do that. Since I’ve been here, we’ve been to the finals a couple times but never been able to win that final game.”
The Bruins have won five games in a row since a four-point loss Dec. 10 to host Placer. The margin of victory was at least nine points in each of those games during the streak but only two wins came against teams with a winning record – Victory Christian and San Juan.
Justin Beskeen leads the Bruins in scoring with 17.3 points per game. The 6-5 forward is followed by seniors Brandon Wooner and Jonny Cassar, who both average about 10 points a game.
Bear River starts its trek for its first tournament title today against rival Nevada Union.

Casa Roble (5-5)
The Rams enter the tournament as one of two teams without a winning record – Woodcreek (4-8) is the other. They have dropped their last three games, including a 62-48 loss to Placer.
Casa Roble, though, beat Placer 55-41 Dec. 16 in the Rail City Classic in Sparks, Nev., which gave it a two-game win streak before the current drought.

Colfax (7-4)
The Falcons’ strength comes from their post players, which spurred them to two wins in their last three games.
Will Buell, a 6-6 forward, leads the team with 18.1 points per game, while 6-6 center Matt Larson provides 11.6 points a game. If the defense keys in on one of the two posts players, senior guard Luke Beninga is able to pick up the slack with 11.2 points per game.
But Colfax coach Mike O’Connell said it’s the defense that will lead the Falcons back to the title. Which they won for the first time last season.
“We’re just going to have to play strong defense because there’s some teams that we’re going against that get up and down and score,” O’Connell said. “Del Campo likes to shoot the three a lot. So basically our defense is going to tell us whether we’re in this or not.”
Colfax starts the tournament at 5 p.m. today against Del Campo.

Del Campo (9-2)
The Cougars come in to the tournament with the best record but have stumbled as of late. They lost consecutive games to Bella Vista (54-48) and Burbank (77-60) before they edged Oak Ridge (53-49).
Senior guard Davit Saghateylan leads Del Campo in scoring with 12.8 points per game but Semir Cahtarevic (10.7), Johnny Hayes (9.7) and Trey Novak (8.4) are also capable of leading the offense.
“Davit had the most minutes of any of our returners so he’s started off the quickest,” Del Campo coach Dave Nobis said. “There’s also times when we ask Davit to defend the other team’s best players and somebody else needs to step up… Four of our five starters, it can be anybody who leads us that night.”
Del Campo’s defense has proved to be stingy with 11.2 steals per game, 3.9 blocked shots a game and nearly 34 rebounds a game with more than half of those coming on the defensive side of the ball.

Nevada Union (8-3)
The Miners haven’t lost back-to-back games yet this season and have at least two wins between each of their losses.
They come in riding a two-game win streak behind the strength of 6-2 guard Ian Davis. The junior leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game. Davis also has a knack for creating turnovers with 24 steals on the season, including a six-steal effort in a 62-54 win against Oakmont earlier this month.
“I think the fact that we’ve obtained a certain level of patience, so far, that Ian certainly seems to be the kid who gets a lot of shots,” Nevada Union coach Jeff Dellis said. “I think we’re a pretty balanced team. Sam Barber and Alex Ward, I think they’re a nice 1-2 punch inside. Cody Gardner had 22 points against Golden Valley High School in the last round of our tournament. So I think we’re pretty multidimensional.”
Dellis said he looked forward to the opening game against Bear River and called Bruins coach Duwaine Ganskie one of his mentors.

San Juan (7-5)
The Spartans and Bear River have become regular foes this season. The two have faced each other twice already, splitting the season series.
In four of its five losses, San Juan has been within five points. The other came in a 51-43 loss to host Placer at a tournament at Antelope High.
The Spartans don’t have much height to speak of, which could pose a matchup problem in the tournament, but their tallest players also are their most productive. Senior forward Kevin Daniels (6-4) leads the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game while 6-3 forward Irakliy Pachuliya averages 12.2 points per game. Junior guard Lincoln Gallegos controls the offense with 3.8 assists per game but has shown a scoring prowess with 10.7 points per game.

Woodcreek (4-8)
The Timberwolves have had a rough start to the season with six of their losses coming by 15 or more points, including a 61-45 loss to Antelope in their last game.
On the plus side, most of those losses came against some of the area’s top teams, including Jesuit (75-50) the 12th-ranked team in California according to Cal-Hi Sports.
Woodcreek kicks off the tournament against Casa Roble at 3:30 p.m. today.