It's never easy to beat a rival once in a single season, or twice. Or three times, even.
How about four?
That was the daunting task at hand for second-seeded Woodcreek High School as it faced cross-town Roseville rival and No. 4 Oakmont tonight in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title game at Arco Arena.
Trailing 10-0 early, 12-2 after the first quarter and 14-2 a moment later, the Timberwolves scratched and bruised their way back into it, thanks to defense and three fourth-quarter three-pointers by senior guard and leading scorer Nik Milani to prevail 45-44 and set off a celebration scene.
The euphoria was highlighted by coach Burnel Pinkerton, a former Oakmont assistant coach to Gary Donnell, who led the Vikings to section glory in the 1990s. Pinkerton is close friends with Oakmont coach Rick Campbell, and the two embraced before and after the game. The moment this one ended, Pinkerton pumped his fist several times, then hugged players, then pumped some more.
There was reason for the joy. Woodcreek won the toughest conference in the section, the Sierra Foothill League, then impressed in the early rounds of the playoffs and down the stretch tonight.
Milani had 16 points, and UC Davis-bound center Mike Kurtz had 10 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Nik Stathopoulos added 11 points and two steals for Woodcreek.
Alex Ford led Oakmont with 15 and Tony Gill had 12, but the tough senior wanted at least two more. He made a free throw with 10.7 seconds left to cut Woodcreek's lead to 45-43, and after Kurtz missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Gill missed a top-of-the-key shot to tie at the buzzer as the Black Mob rooting section of Woodcreek erupted.
Woodcreek's student throng dueled with the white-shirt clad Oakmont "O-Zone", giving Arco the best 1-2 rooting section punch of the weekend.
Both teams advance to the expanded Northern California regional playoffs that start Tuesday.
Woodcreek won a section title under coach Paul Hayes in 2003 then tailed off, missing the playoffs in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Oakmont won its only section hoops crown in 1994 and was a runner-up in 1999 and 2000. The Vikings had not won a playoff game entering this postseason in nine seasons, missing the post season in five of the past six years.