CONCORD – Evan McKnight stands taller than any of his Ygnacio Valley teammates at 6-foot-10, and looks at least a foot larger than that whenever the senior raises his arms to block a shot.
His rim-rattling two-handed slam dunks drew the loudest cheers, but McKnight biggest impact came on the defensive side of the ball Thursday night, where the center put a picket fence around the rim in YV’s 67-54 victory over Benicia.
“My mission is to protect my house, and my house is the paint,” McKnight said. “I don’t want to let anyone get near it.”
Antonio Kellogg Jr. Loyal Morris led the team with 16 points, and Antonio Kellogg Jr. poured in 15. Jalan Cody scored 11 and McKnight put in 12 to go along with 10 rebounds.
The Wolves’ next foe is traditional Diablo Athletic League power Clayton Valley Charter in a matchup of Concord programs. Michael Woolridge did not undersell how far Ygnacio Valley has come since he took over in 2022.
“I’d be lying if I told you I knew we could eventually (play in a DAL championship),” Woolridge, whose first team went 2-18 and 0-10 in league play, said when reminiscing about that first year. “I just thought we had potential, and we had guys who lived in the area that could work if we just stayed in the gym.”
But before making the DAL title game, Ygnacio Valley had to get past Benicia, which was not a given. YV went 11-1 in Diablo Athletic League play and won the league crown, but a 66-56 loss to Benicia in late January prevented the Wolves from sweeping.
The first quarter, which saw McKnight block four shots, was up-and-down as the teams traded fastbreak buckets and blocks. But after taking a slim 20-15 lead after one quarter, YV used Kellogg drives and Morris buckets to take a 38-21 lead into halftime.
When Morris, Kellogg and Morris again threw down three consecutive open-court dunks to blow the lead to 44-21 after 50 seconds of third-quarter play, the rout appeared to be on.
But Benicia, led by coach Steven Carter, got timely baskets from Ayden Thompson (28 points) and Brandon Earl (seven points) to cut into the lead.
“I was proud of them, because we still fought,” said Carter, whose team also missed quite a few shots along the perimeter. “Once we get everybody going, we’ll be fine.”
On the other end, Benicia flummoxed YV with a 2-3 zone that forced turnovers and constricted driving lanes. The Panthers held the Wolves scoreless for almost five minutes, cutting the advantage to 44-32 with 1:30 left In the third.
Morris poured in six points to break the run, and Ygnacio Valley kept the spirited Panthers at bay for the rest of the game, and locked down a spot in the DAL title game.
“I feel like we’re in a movie,” McKnight said. “It’s awesome.”