Published Thursday, February 14, 2013

Prep Basketball: Northgate heads into unchartered territory


Northgate’s boys basketball team suddenly finds itself in unchartered territory.

After defeating McIntosh 40-33 Monday night in the second round of the Region 4-AAAAA basketball tournament at Ola High School, the Vikings find themselves heading to state next week for the first time in the school’s 15 years of varsity play in what is also their head coach’s final season prior to retirement.

Struggling to finish tight games in subregion play through the majority of a 6-15 regular season, the Vikings picked the right time to peak while carrying a three-game win streak into tonight’s region semifinal contest at 5:30 p.m. against 4B-AAAAA foe Whitewater.

Northgate’s longest win streak of the year started with a victory over Pike County to close the regular season, then continued with an emotional victory over Mundy’s Mill in a contest that game down to the final seconds in the first round of region tournament.

“We have been working really hard,” said senior Adrian Tolbert. “We have been coming to the gym and working hard in practice. It’s just exciting because this is the first time in school history we have been to state.”

Northgate’s magical run extends the career of basketball coach Mack Cain who has announced his retirement at the end of the season. Much like Ray Lewis’ departure may have carried the Ravens emotionally toward a Super Bowl victory, Cain’s announcement may have given his players extra motivation.

“That was really a motivating factor,” said Tolbert. “Even if he wasn’t retiring, it would still be great to get to state, but now that he is retiring, it makes it even better.”

The Vikings still have a little more work to do at the Region 4-AAAAA tournament at Ola High School before it can turn its thoughts to the Class AAAAA tournament.

Northgate plays another top-four seed tonight in the 15-11 Wildcats, which boast Division I prospect Philip Cofer, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, and senior guard Darius Sharpe, who transferred in from Westlake.

Whitewater, which has had to overcome the sudden death of JV boys coach Noah Chalkley in January, also seems to be peaking at the right time following its thrashing of A-subregion runner-up Drew 73-48.

Should they pull another dramatic upset, Northgate would advance to Friday’s region championship at 8:30 p.m., and clinch home court for the first round of the Class AAAAA tournament.

None of that is lost on Cain.

“We know what is at stake,” he said. “We want to win the region title, and we want to play at home.”

After losing to McIntosh twice during the regular season, the Vikings weren’t given much of a chance to knock off the top-seed Chiefs Monday night.

However, guard Luke Motzel says when this team plays at its best it can compete with anybody.

“We have worked hard all year,” he said. “The second team really pushes us and helps us get ready. Our coaches have worked hard to get us ready all year.”

Even though Saturday’s game against Mundy’s Mill went right to the wire, it could have changed the Vikings’ direction.

“It sort of lit a fuse for us,” Motzel said. “It gave us plenty of confidence. Maybe we have caught fire at the right time.”

Senior Peyton Cain, the coach’s son, who earned a starting spot this season for Vikings, is enjoying his father’s final coaching ride.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Peyton Cain said. “As I look around the gym, I don’t see any boys basketball banners. Now, we just got one. We have been able to get that single goal of getting a banner in our own gym and it is awesome.”

Northgate is again faced with beating a squad that it lost to twice during the regular season, falling 57-53 in Fayetteville and 65-54 in the most recent meeting on Jan. 29, where Cofer led all scorers with 28 points.

The Vikings aren’t worried about past history. They understand things are finally coming together.

“At the beginning of the season we lost by 40 to Landmark and I really shook my head,” Peyton said. “We have come back and been in some big games. When we beat Ola earlier this year, I thought we had a chance to be pretty good, and now I think things are coming together. When they look at the final four at the region tournament, it’s our half of the subregion. So that shows we played some pretty good teams.”

The veteran coach knows his team is going to have to play hard if hopes to finally knock off Whitewater and set itself up for a possible region title.

“We have a lot of respect for them,” Coach Cain said. “We know we are going to have to play hard. They have two Division I players, so it is going to be a big challenge.”

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