The South Fork Cubs sent out a warning to the rest of the Little 4 on Thursday night, running out to a very impressive 68-56 win in boys basketball at St. Bernard’s.
The win was noteworthy for many reasons.
First up, it ends an almost six-year unbeaten run in the Little 4 for the Crusaders, a spell that included 27 consecutive wins and dates back to Jan. 31, 2013.
It also ended a run of 12 straight league wins for the Crusaders over the Cubs.
Most importantly, however, the win was a statement of intent from this year’s South Fork team, and the energy the Cubs played with would suggest they certainly believe they can compete for a league title.
“We played with a ton of intensity,” South Fork head coach Taylor Morrow said afterwards.
But while the result may have sent shockwaves around the rest of the Humboldt-Del Norte League, don’t tell the Cubs it was unexpected.
“No, not at all,” Morrow said. “We know we can play with the other teams in the Little 4.”
The Cubs played like conference contenders, answering every time St. Bernard’s challenged them, before pulling away in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore guard Riley Gallagher was instrumental in the win, not just for scoring a team-high 20 points, but also for setting the tone early, nailing three of his six 3-pointers in the opening quarter.
The key to the win was controlling St. Bernard’s Lane Thrap, who has been sensational himself all season.
Thrap finished with a game-high 30 points, but was less effective after the interval, with 21 of his tally coming in the first half.
“We knew coming in that Lane is their man and we had to stop him, and we put in the work this week to stop him,” Morrow said. “He had a big first half, but in the second half, our pace and physicality started to slow him down.”
The Cubs opened the stronger of the two teams, and led by five after the first quarter.
There was little between the two teams for the opening three quarters, although every time the Crusaders pulled close, it seemed the Cubs answered with a big basket, consistently holding their opponents at bay.
The Crusaders did pull level midway through the fourth quarter, but it was short-lived as the visitors answered immediately with back-to-back baskets from C.J. Van Meter and Jayden Paine.
And after re-taking the momentum, the Cubs went on to outscore the Crusaders 17-5 over the final four minutes.
It was a disappointing performance from the home team.
“I was not very happy with the way we played,” St. Bernard’s head coach Steve Thrap said. “We didn’t come out ready to go and that’s on me.
“I don’t know if we were looking past South Fork, but I know they’re a good team. They did what they can do.
“They played fantastic and they came out and kicked our butts.”
In fairness to the St. Bernard’s players, they were right there in the mix in an exciting game for much of the night, although the late letdown was costly, particularly some poor shooting from the free-throw line down the stretch.
The Cubs, to their credit, lived up to their billing as the deepest team in the Little 4, with contributions from throughout the lineup and eight players scoring.
Van Meter finished with 13 points, while Cody Wyatt had 11, and Paine and Alex Harding six apiece.
The Crusaders, who dropped to 1-1 in the Little 4 and 7-7 overall, will play at Calistoga on Saturday.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are 1-0 in conference and 8-8 overall, and will now turn their attention to Saturday’s trip to Hoopa to face the high-scoring George Navarro and the Warriors for the conference lead.
In JV action, St. Bernard’s defeated South Fork 68-58.
Peyton Smith led the Crusaders with 22 points, while teammate Nick Dugan had six 3-pointers for 18 points.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.