Immediately after the Christopher High boys basketball team lost to Hillsdale last Saturday in the Central Coast Section Division II championship game, CHS principal Jeremy Dirks approached coach Tim Von Urff and said, “Get ready to go to Humboldt.” When a team loses in a section final, it usually means it has to travel for the opening round of regional play, sometimes to places as far away as yes, Humboldt.
“I’m thinking how in the hell am I going to ask my boss for a day off,” Von Urff said. “We were planning on traveling a long way, but once we saw the brackets, you couldn’t help but think somebody somewhere was looking out for us. Because to have the opportunity to have two home games, you couldn’t have it any better.”
Of that, there is no doubt. The No. 4 seed Cougars (19-10) earned that second home game after a 55-46 win over No. 13 seed Mount Shasta in the opening round of the CIF NorCal Division V playoffs Tuesday. Christopher hosts No. 5 seed Eastside College Prep in a quarterfinal Thursday at 7 p.m. The dream season continues.
“These boys have been fighting all year, and they weren’t going to stop here,” Von Urff said. “The effort and play of everyone tonight was pretty remarkable.”
Remarkable would be one way to describe the Cougars’ season, as with each passing game they continue to make program history. Mount Shasta gave Christopher all it could handle until the Cougars pulled away in the fourth quarter. The key sequence came when Owen McCarry hit a 3-pointer, followed by two free throws from Duncan Ellis and a 3-point play from Tobenna Ezeokeke. In between the scores, Christopher clamped down defensively and got some stops.
“(After that sequence) Mount Shasta wasn’t able to recover,” Von Urff said.
Duncan Ellis finished with 12 points, Ezeokeke 11 and Rickey Becker and freshman Chris Naulls had nine points each for the Cougars, who outscored the Bears 16-8 in the fourth quarter. McCarry, a junior point guard, had watched Mount Shasta on video and felt confident the Cougars would come out on top.
“We knew we would probably win if we played the way we should play,” he said.
McCarry noticed a handful of CHS alumni members in the crowd, which always makes things more exciting.
“It’s cool to see all the people who used to play in the program be there,” McCarry said. “And to think what they started was now coming together.”
If the Cougars are anywhere close within striking range in the fourth quarter, you have to like their chances. They’ve had several games this season where they’ve trailed and rallied to win, or have pulled out contests that were close from start to finish.
“We’ve been in tight games all year, and the boys know how to play in those situations,” Von Urff said. “Credit our boys—especially our guards—down the stretch for making plays on the offensive end and being solid defensively.”
After the team graduated its two point guards from last season, McCarry has stepped into the position and done a solid job. The 6-foot-1, 167-pounder always seems to be in a calm state of mind, even when the opponents are utilizing full-court pressure.
“Owen has stepped up and taken that role of point guard this year, and as the season progressed, he became more poised,” Von Urff said. “And because he is our facilitator, he steers the boat and keeps us calm in any type of situation. He’s been just phenomenal.”
McCarry has wanted to play point guard since he was in the fourth grade. Time and again, he shows he definitely has the right mindset for it, as he has a pass-first mentality.
“I’ve always been more of a passer,” he said. “I probably could be more selfish to score, but I’m always looking to facilitate and be a playmaker for my teammates.”
Virtually everyone in the rotation started playing together after last season ended with Von Urff’s Hundred Hustle AAU program. McCarry said that helped the team build chemistry and go through the grind of a season together. All the hard work has paid off in the form of several comeback victories this season, including the season-opening 41-35 win over Pajaro Valley, which proved to be a harbinger. The Cougars trailed 31-19 after three quarters—they had a miserable first half and went into halftime with just seven points—before outscoring Pajaro Valley 22-4 in the fourth to win going away.
“In that first game we showed who we were,” McCarry said. “We played a terrible first half and we somehow came back to win it. That’s how we’ve been all year, a team coming from behind and finding a way to win.”