Timberwolves return to Arco

Northern California title on line Saturday
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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As part of our game preview, we spoke to both coaches, and also to two coaches who are familiar with Woodcreek and St. Francis and asked their thoughts on the game. Steve Taylor of Rocklin was 1-1 against Woodcreek this year and lost to St. Francis in the NorCal quarterfinals, while Oakmont's Rick Campbell was 0-4 against the Timberwolves before losing last weekend to St. Francis in the NorCal semifinals.

“We have shown that we can play in a high scoring game (vs. Rocklin) and that we can grind it out (vs. Oakmont).  The funny thing is that Woodcreek has shown the ability to do the same against the same teams.  It should be a great game.”  

- St. Francis coach Michael Motil


“The pressure is all on them. They are the No. 2 seed who was ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the year by Cal-Hi. They were here last year and didn't advance. They are supposed to beat us. We are the Cinderella story with people asking ‘Where's Woodcreek?’” 

- Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton




“In the end, I feel the single most important thing for Woodcreek is to win the battle of the boards. Whoever rebounds better will probably win this game.” 

- Oakmont coach Rick Campbell



“To me, the big difference is Mike Kurtz. His presence on the defensive end will cause St Francis problems because he can change and block shots as St Francis tries to penetrate and get to the rim. Woodcreek’s defenders will be able to extend out and will not have to help on penetration because Kurtz can defend the key by himself.”

– Rocklin coach Steve Taylor


Two teams that pride themselves in the depth of their talent will put that belief to the test Saturday at Arco Arena.


The Woodcreek High boys basketball team has arrived on the threshold of a Northern California championship, but now must beat the team that lost in this spot a season ago.


“I don't think that there is an advantage because we were there last year,” said St. Francis coach Michael Motil. “Every year basketball teams have seniors that graduate and hopefully new leaders emerge the next season.”


Both of these teams have benefited from the emergence of new stars this season, and both get contributions beyond the starting five. Woodcreek’s main scoring comes from starters Nik Milani, Mike Kurtz, Ryan Milat and Nik Stathopoulos, but point guard Ryan Sondhi has been known to answer the call when required.


Last Saturday, the senior had a huge night in the overtime semifinal win over Archbishop Mitty.


More importantly, Woodcreek gets other things from a deep and talented bench. Devin Murphy, Derek Anganes, John Peska, James Geyer and Sam Anderson pride themselves in their ability to change the game. The energy they bring is contagious for Woodcreek.

While many coaches shorten the bench as the postseason progresses, Burnel Pinkerton has not done so, understanding the lift he gets from that group.


“We might tweak a couple of things but we are going to do what we do,” Pinkerton said. “You just don't change much this time of the year unless you are a huge underdog.”


Motil has seen two of the Sierra Foothill League’s top teams the last two games in Rocklin and Oakmont, but now he has to contend with the league champion.


“I see a team that does all the little things right. They do a great job of sharing the basketball and breaking teams down in the half-court,” Motil said. “They all excel at their roles defensively.  It will definitely be challenging for us to try to defend Woodcreek.”


Woodcreek has challenges of its own in trying to attack a physical St. Francis team.


They are very physical on the perimeter and can push you up the floor, thus taking you out of rhythm on offense,” said Oakmont coach Rick Campbell, whose team lost to St. Francis in last week’s semifinal. “Woodcreek will need to adjust to the physical play and simply execute the way they have all year.”


The Lancers are led by Fresno State-bound guard Tyler Johnson.


“Woodcreek will have to find an answer for Johnson,” Campbell said. “He's a left-handed player that can score inside and out.  He will need to be contained for Woodcreek to have success.”


“The two big concerns - how physical they are and how well they rebound,” Pinkerton said. “The guards are good. We need to handle the physical part early and box out.”


In the end, the difference in the result may come down to the play of Kurtz and the Woodcreek bench. St. Francis was able to hold its own against Oakmont’s big men, but they still have no one to match up with the 6-foot-11 center.


“I think a key match up will be Nik Milani against Johnson,” said Rocklin coach Steve Taylor. “Both are their team’s best scorers, are very hard to guard, and they score in lots of different ways. They will probably offset one another and then Woodcreek’s depth will be a deciding factor in the outcome. 


“They have had a variety of players step up throughout the year and find ways to score points.  I think Woodcreek is deeper then St Francis.”


Depth has carried the day for the Timberwolves all year long. If it comes through one more time, Woodcreek will be the champions of Northern California and be headed to Bakersfield for next Friday’s state title game.



CIF State Division II Boys Basketball Tournament

Northern California championship game

4 p.m. Saturday at Arco Arena

Woodcreek vs. St. Francis of Mountain View


Ticket prices:

Kings Row I - $45

Kings Row II - $40

Courtside, Rows AA-EE - $20

Adult General Admission - $16

Seniors (65+ with ID) - $10

High School Students (with ID) - $10

Children - $10

Parking Fee: At ARCO Arena there will be a $12.00 parking fee for ALL cars and busses.

Join us on-line at or for a running blog from courtside during the game as well as postgame results and stories.