Championship clash |

Championship clash

John HartNevada Union's Jarad Van Matre drives on a reverse layup during a 48-47 win over Kennedy on Feb. 12.
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Staring at a 1-9 record, the last thing to cross a coach’s mind would be contending for a league championship.



That’s exactly what Jeff Dellis and company were thinking after Nevada Union’s varsity boys basketball team stumbled out of the blocks this season.

But Dellis wasn’t just hoping his Miners could contend, he knew they would have to for NU to have any chance at qualifying for postseason play.

“We kind of said that we’d have to win the league, knowing that 30 percent of the power ratings is preseason (record),” Dellis said. “And 4-12 (in the preseason) was not going to get it done.”

But the Miners (12-15 overall, 8-3 Metro) did get the job done in league play, which is why they are hosting an improbable Metro Conference championship game at 7 p.m. today. According to Dellis, a win would give NU its first league title in varsity boys basketball since 1992.

Oh, and by the way, tonight’s foe is none other than the Grant Pacers (15-11 overall, 8-3 Metro).

“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” Dellis said. “It’s exactly like NU and Grant in football, playing for the league championship in the final game of the season.”

And for the record, the Miners beat their most fierce rival that night, taking home a 43-40 win and the Metro crown. Both teams entered that game unbeaten, but this time around NU would be considered the underdog – at least until a few weeks ago.

After closing out the preseason portion of its schedule with a 4-12 mark, NU ran off four-straight wins to open Metro play. But an 80-66 loss to Yuba City on the road brought NU back to earth, as did a 69-56 setback to Grant five days later. The skid continued at Johnson, where the Warriors sent the Miners back up Highway 49 with three straight losses after a 74-62 defeat.

“We had every bit of confidence that we could still pull it off,” Dellis said. “But absolutely, yes, there were times of doubt.”

The Miners, though, weren’t ready to relinquish a playoff berth. NU ran off four straight wins, including Wednesday’s 69-64 win over then league-leader Yuba City.

“The first time we played Yuba City, they had 20 offensive rebounds. The first time we played Grant they had 18,” Dellis said. “In both games, we were just completely dominated on the boards. Then (Wednesday) night, Yuba City had eight offensive rebounds and scored eight points off of them.

“That’s a huge turnaround. The same thing has to happen with Grant. We have to keep them off the glass to have any reasonable expectations of being successful.”

Of course, for the Miners to be successful against Grant, Dellis said, is always a bit sweeter.

“Absolutely,” he said. “What’s really nice is that our kids have competed against the Grant kids for years. There’s a certain respect there. Early on, maybe there’s some intimidation, but not anymore. We’ve shown we can beat them in football and we’ve been successful against them in the past in basketball. And we have every expectation of being successful tomorrow night.”

To do that, NU will have to find a way to slow down the Pacers’ Justin Booker, who is second in the Metro in scoring at 16.3 points per game. NU, on the other hand, has the league’s leading scorer in Jon Sheets (20.7 ppg) and third-leading scorer Gary Daley (15.4 ppg).

The Pacers also enter today’s game on the heels of a 67-64 loss to Yuba City last Friday. In fact, two of Grant’s three losses have come in its past three games, including a 59-58 defeat to Kennedy.

“We hope to turn people away (tonight),” Dellis said. “We probably had 1,800 to 1,900 people here (Wednesday for the Yuba City game). It’s a Friday night, instead of Wednesday. The weather should be clear. All of those things should contribute to a good crowd.

“We will at least be co-champs with a win and we still have an outside shot of being the undisputed champions.”

The winner earns at least a share of the Metro championship, but if Yuba City falls to Johnson, either Grant or Nevada Union takes the crown outright.

Metro Conference

Overall League

Yuba City 16-9 8-3

Grant 15-11 8-3 Nevada Union 12-15 8-3

Kennedy 16-12 7-5

Hiram Johnson 8-15 4-7

McClatchy 8-18 2-9

Woodland 8-19 2-9

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