Prep Basketball: Northgate clinches first trip ever to state tourney

Northgate boys basketball coach Mack Cain has to put his retirement plans on hold. That’s because Northgate still has some unfinished business.
Cain’s Vikings are writing a Cinderella story that has the basketball team on the brink of school history.
With Monday night’s 40-33 victory over McIntosh in the Region 4-AAAAA Tournament at Ola High School, the Vikings punched their ticket to the Class AAAAA state tournament.
Northgate started its magical run Saturday afternoon with 46-44 victory over Mundy’s Mill.  It’s the first time in school history a Northgate basketball team has advanced to the state playoffs.
“I think we all had to cancel some winter break plans, but we are glad to do it,” Cain joked. 
Cain, who took several of his teams from Jonesboro to the state tournament while coaching at the Clayton County School, including playing in the state title game in 2002,  can’t wait for the Vikings to get a taste of going to high school’s version of the big dance.
“I have been there before,” he said. “They haven’t. I told them after the game that this is for them, and that they earned it.”
Northgate now takes on Region 4B-AAAAA rival Whitewater in a semifinal showdown at the region tournament. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
All four teams remaining at the Region 4-AAAAA tournament are from the five-school B-subregion including Northgate.
Northgate point guard Luke Motzel has helped steer the offensive attack recently for the Vikings. 
The senior point guard has shown his ability to hit from the outside with a collection of 3-points shots, plus an ability dribble the ball in the lane or look for an open teammate for an assist.
Adrian Tolbert has been a rebounding force for the Vikings during the region tournament run, pulling down double figures in rebounds in the past two games.
One of the most impressive members of the squad as been Wendell Watson. The sophomore has grown up over the past season and can score from out on the perimeter, or off the glas on layups.  He has also developed a keen eye from the free throw line.
During Monday’s win, Watson finished with 13 points and went 8 of 11 from the line. He accounted for most of the team’s trip to the free throw line as the Vikings finished with a 10 for 13 performance.
“We have been doing a good job of hitting free throws,” Cain said. “It is something we work on every day in practice, lately they have been falling.”
Tolbert added a double-double with his performance against the Chiefs, finishing with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Motzel turned in a 9-point performance in the victory against McIntosh.
Monday’s victory came in the third meeting of the year between the two Region 4B-AAAAA rivals.  The Chiefs entered the game as the No. 1 seed out of the B-Division of the region and earned a first-round bye.
During the regular season, McIntosh had the Vikings’ number, winning 63-57 and 61-45, but heading into Monday night’s rematch, Cain knew that didn’t mean anything.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row, so we felt pretty confident going into the game,” he said. 
Northgate has picked the perfect time to play its best basketball of the year.
Heading into the tournament, the squad was just 6-15, but had lost some close contests.
“We have been playing really well, the last few weeks of the regular season, and I knew we had a really good chance to win some games,” Cain said.
The 33 points were the lowest offensive output this season for the Chiefs, and it benefitted the Vikings game where their was more defense that offense.
“We played great defense, and I think that really played to our advantage,” Cain said. “When we keep it a low-scoring game, I think we have a pretty good chance.”
Like against McIntosh, there shouldn’t be any mystery between the Vikings and the Wildcats. This will be the third meeting between the two teams this season. Whitewater won both meetings, knocking off  Northgate 57-53 and 65-54.
The winner of the game secures at least a second-place finish in the region and home-court advantage to open the Class AAAAA playoffs.
“Now that we know we are in the state tournament, we can relax a little bit, but it would be good to win and get to host that first game at the state tournament at home,” Cain said. 
The winner of the Northgate-Whitewater game plays the winner of the Creekside-Starr’s Mill game Friday night at 8:30 p.m. in the championship.
Creekside pulled off won of the biggest upsets of the tournament so far, beating state-ranked Mount Zion-Jonesboro 62-57.

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